Over many years discussions have raged about leadership ability and whether great leaders are born to lead or whether they develop their craft through years of learning and experience.
One thing is clear, we are all born with an inherent set of capabilities and personality traits. Anyone who has raised children will marvel at their differences from a very early age – for example, the son who being interested in animals later becomes a vet, or the perennial bookworm daughter who loves reading and writing so much she went on to be a journalist.
However, something that we have recently learned from neuroscience is that our biology is not our destiny, as our brains continue to change throughout our lives. Contrary to popular belief, the number of neurons (brain cells) that we possess does not significantly change throughout our lives. In addition, Neuroscientific research has shown that experience and education can change the number of connections made between our brain cells, altering our brain’s “synaptic density” well into later life. For example, in a recent study of juggling, the brain areas activated at the beginning of the three month training period had increased in size by the end of it. After three months of rest, these areas had shrunk back and were closer to their original size. (1). The process of creating new connections or “pathways” and pruning less used pathways continues throughout our lives.
This research may well therefore help us to answer the question “Are leaders born or made?”. While some leaders may well have been born with a set of capabilities and personality traits that have helped them to lead, their brains have also “learned” the necessary methods, habits and behaviours that have enabled them to become great.