Are individuals who are leaders, born as leaders, or do they become leaders? What do you think? This common discussion and debate occurs because some believe individuals poses charismatic talent and unique leadership abilities at birth. Others, believe anyone can be a leader— and they become such from experience, education, their title, etc. What do you believe?

In leadership research during the 20th century, the question: "Are people born leaders?" drew great attention to determine what made certain individuals leaders over others. Researchers believed these individuals had traits they were born with, which made them leaders over others who lacked these traits. The theory supporting this thought was called, The Great Man Theory. Those were individuals, in the early 20th century, with innate qualities and characteristics in roles such as social, political and military positions. Only great people had these traits and they were born with them.

Identifying Leadership Traits

What is that list of traits within the Great Man Theory? Are there five or ten traits all leaders have? If so, are we comfortable saying that, because of these traits, these individuals became leaders? If we agreed on a list, it would make it much easier to identify leaders in our industry, companies, people seeking employees, etc. One could have a checkoff list for these traits and then feel confident they have identified a leader to work for their organization, company and farming or ranching operation.

Researchers have continued to study and try to find that magic list of traits. Between 1948 and 2004, a major series of studies found the most common traits in leaders were: intelligence; self-confidence; determination; integrity; and sociability. But since then, more traits have been identified by academic researchers and by authors of leadership books who share their viewpoints on what traits identify a leader.

Challenges & Other Considerations

While it would be effective and efficient to have a list of assessments to measure these traits with the end result indicating whether or not someone is a leader, unfortunately, leadership and becoming a leader are not that straightforward. Identifying traits most leaders possess has been helpful to classify individuals who may have the ability to become a leader. However, since the field of leadership has not agreed on that ideal list, these traits can only be used as a guide to identify leaders.

Yet identifying traits of leaders has provided benchmarks to consider and review. It has not been proven that individuals are born as leaders. Extensive research, however, suggest certain traits are found more commonly in leaders. One recent large database measuring what people look for in a leader (e.g. traits they want to see in them) has developed this list: 1) Honesty; 2) Forward-looking; 3) Competent; 4) Inspiring; and 5) Intelligent.

If you want to identify leaders in your business, this might be a good place to start, but it should be followed with your personal experiences with the individual and frequents observations in that person's interactions with others.