Leadership – Art or Science? Are leaders born or made?



The question whether leadership is an art or a science has always been pondered and you will easily find two groups that land (with conviction) on one side of the coin.  While some leaders were born with the gift of sheer charisma, others had the innate ability to instill belief in people and still others just had the magic of being able to pull people along.  For the common person this truly seems magical, intimidating and something not capable of emulation, leave alone learning.

Let us first define leadership and then break it down to its component parts to better understand if the components can be learnt or are gifts at birth.


Leadership – the Kay definition


At Kay, we talk about “everyday” leaders.  This is the common person who has to perform some challenging task usually related to leading or influencing other people, such as planning a golf trip, a potluck dinner, coaching a youth sports team, leading a project at work or self-improvement initiatives.


Leadership Qualities


To successfully accomplish any of the above, certain qualities are required in the incumbent leader.  The Kay Leadership Qualities, breaks down these into four distinct categories:

  1. a.      Development Skills
  2. b.      Personal Qualities
  3. c.       Collaborative Qualities
  4. d.      Advanced (Other) Skills


Development Skills


Development skills are the easiest to learn.  Capability improvement initiatives that enhance your knowledge or technical skills fall under this category.  Getting an advanced degree, building an exercise routine, continuous reading and learning are examples of development skills. 

Capabilities can be developed = check!


Personal Qualities


Personal qualities are basically habits that you form to transform your personality.  Once you recognize the particular quality you want to build, all it takes is continuous practice, good faith in your own ability to internalize the concept that you are practicing and patience to stay the course.  Before long, this will become a (good) habit and you will have mastered the particular skill.  Things such as developing patience, self-confidence, impactful writing backed up by logical thinking, building and following a checklist and keeping good time can be categorized as personal qualities required for leaders to be effective.

These qualities will be most noticeable as your transform yourself.

Habits can be developed = check!


Collaborative Qualities


For leaders to be effective they need to work with, inspire and influence other people.  Collaborative qualities are behavioral changes within the leader that induce changes in others’ behavior.  These are the soft, people engagement skills that go hand-in-hand with personal skills.  Qualities such as empathy, effective listening, recognition, knowledge-sharing and providing constructive feedback fall under this category.

As you deploy these qualities and notice the change in others’ behavior, you will feel as if you have a magic remote control that can make you predict people’s behavior. 

You can change your behavior through conscious practice = check!


Advanced Skills


Any skill that does not fall in the previous three categories can be bucketed in this category.  As the name suggests, these skills can be recognized and practiced only after a certain level of understanding and experience is reached.  Recognizing different personalities, conflict resolution, 80/20 analysis, effective delegation and comfort with ambiguity are examples of some advanced skills.

To practice advanced skills you need first to be aware of these and then constantly look for opportunities to deploy them.

Advanced skills can be developed = check!




As you can see, most of the skills can be developed through conscious practice and perseverance.

In conclusion, with an understanding of the concepts, systematic development work and patience to stay the course, anyone can build effective leadership skills.

Therefore, leadership is more of a science than an art! 

I look forward to your thoughts on this.  I am sure there are tons of other stories and examples that you may have experienced that prove or disprove any of my theories here and I encourage you to share those.

 Image: © Scootz | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

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