The Leader's Brain--Are They Born or Made?

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more

and become more…you are a leader.

John Quincy Adams


John Quincy Adams nailed it when he said that a leader is one who inspires and cultivates others to BE and DO MORE.  Many studies have been conducted on the characteristics and strengths of effective leaders endeavoring to answer the question, “Are leaders born or made?”  

Are Leaders Brains Different?

Yes, studies have identified that there are indeed differences in a leader’s brain that strengthens certain skills.  For example, there is often more activity in the pre frontal cortex, the executive functioning center of the brain responsible for processing cause and effect, communication, emotional regulation and organizational skills.  There is also often more activity in the right anterior temporal lobe, which is directly responsible for increased creativity, factual knowledge, memory, and problem-solving skills.

Yet some studies show that the emotional and intuitive areas of the leader's brain are also more active than others, showing that effective leaders often employ a combination of logical problem-solving and emotional intuition to create solutions.  Previously, it was believed that effective leaders employed logical analysis void of emotional connection to make great decisions.  Neuroleadership studies are proving otherwise, read more about it in "The Inner Workings of the Executive Brain."

This begs the question, can we further develop leadership in those who have inherent skills?  More importantly, can we promote leadership in those who do not possess natural inclinations?

Are Leaders Born or Made?

Are leaders born? 

In my experience, yes.

I have seen very young children exhibit innate organizational and leadership skills early on and they continue to develop those skills as they mature. 

Do all of them grow into successful leaders as adults?



For whatever reason, some natural leaders choose not to cultivate those leadership skills or choose not to pursue opportunities to demonstrate those skills publicly.

Are leaders made?

In my experience, again, yes. 

When people are explicitly taught organizational, communication, relationship and problem-solving skills, they too can become extremely effective leaders.

Research shows that leaders are both born AND made and that is GREAT news to educators as we are in the business of cultivating effective leaders.  Many say that effectual leadership is 30% genetics and 70% environmental influence.  Studies and surveys have shown that perhaps the most important qualities of effective leaders are their abilities to reflect, grow, exhibit social intelligence and model a growth mindset (Dweck); these attributes can be mastered even if they are not natural. 

Again, this is great news as we can identify leadership strengths and promote them in each other. For ideas, check out the Flippen Group's video clip: 3 High Value Activities Each Leader Should Master and the article, "How Emotional Intelligence Became a Key Leadership Skill."

What Can We Do to Strengthen the “Leadership Areas” in the Brain?

There are twelve activities we can participate in to strengthen the creative, problem-solving, relational and communication areas of the brain that are important to leaders.

Here they are in no particular order:

*Exercise--150 minutes of sweaty activity per week is recommended for adults, 840 minutes is recommended for youth under the age of 20

*Consume adequate fruits, vegetables, fiber and water

*Socialize--collaborate and learn with several different age groups

*Learn a new skill--practice the growth mindset

*Read fiction and non-fiction texts

*Laugh--5 seconds per day strengthens the brain for up to 12 hours

*Play games (Sudoku, crosswords, board games and cards)

*Serve and bless others

*Sleep--adults need 7-8 hours daily, youth under age 20 need 9-13 hours

*Pray/meditate--2 minutes per day

*Weigh both the pros/cons when making decisions

*Reflect--what went well and what needs improvement?

***What are you doing to strengthen the leadership areas of your brain?

Characteristics of Effective Leaders

If you think about effective leadership traits demonstrated by leaders you know, you would probably identify these (and leadership research supports them).

Effective leaders:

*Actively demonstrate a servant’s heart

*Model effective communication

*Develop and share a common vision

*Display courage--it takes courage to stand up and speak, courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen (Churchill)

*Exude professionalism

*Demonstrate optimism

*Develop positive relationships with ALL stakeholders

*Exhibit effective problem-solving skills

*Model integrity

*Achieve positive & productive results

Perhaps one of the most imperative skills an effective leader can have is the mindset that leadership is not about having a fancy title or being in charge, leadership is taking care of those in your charge.

Leaders are Born AND Made

Max De Pree, author of Leadership is an Art, sums up leadership in this way, "Effective leadership is much more an art, a belief, a condition of the heart, than a set of things to do."  

Efficient leaders are both born AND made; though, it appears the most important qualities are relational, communication, and optimistic problem-solving "conditions of the heart" that can be cultivated. In essence, we indeed, can "grow" game changing leaders who positively impact our future and success.   Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting,

**Recommended reading for leaders:

The Flip Side--Break Free of the Behaviors that Hold You Back

Developing the Leaders Around You

Wooden on Leadership

Strengths Finder

The Leadership Challenge

The Leader's Brain

Your Brain and Business

Learning to Lead

Leadership is an Art