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Are Leaders made or Born?

According to Bennis (1989), leaders are made, not born, and “made more by themselves than by any external means” (p. 5). By following leaders at the top of their organizations, Bennis found that “such people have no interest in proving themselves, but an abiding interest in expressing themselves. The difference is crucial, for it’s the difference between being driven and leading” (p. 5). With Bennis’s work, the age of interviewing top leaders to gain access to how they do their work came into its own.

Charan, Drotter, and Noel’s (2001) work supports the idea that a leadership base among its employees will help the organization make its selections to critical executive leadership positions, even in a large, decentralized organization. Their hierarchy is pictured by a pipeline bent in six places, each being a rise in leadership function. At the bottom, the leaders begin with managing self, then managing others, managing managers, managing functions, managing a business, a business group, and ending at managing an enterprise.

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The model recognizes several potential leader failures: failing to seek or listen to feedback, identification of failures, leaving the wrong person in the job too long, poor job definition, and selecting the wrong person for the job. Organizations that do not grow their own managers tend not to know their people well enough to understand what risks they are taking when they hire or promote someone, so using a pipeline model would reduce risk in an already volatile environment. One of Northouse’s (2007) criticisms of trait theory is that it fails the utility test for leadership training and development. Growing leaders from inside the organization makes sense because it reduces risk for the organization and still allows for application of trait theory in selection of leaders and skill theory in leader development programs. Followership

Traditional trait and behavior theories assume that a leader adopts a general leadership style that is used with all group members. A more recent approach to leadership behavior research, known as individualized leadership, looks at a specific relationship between leader and each individual member (Yammarino & Dansereau, 2002). Individualized leadership is based on the notion that a leader develops a unique relationship with each subordinate or group member, which determines how the leader behaves for the member and how the member responds to the leader. Individualized leadership examines why leaders have more influence and greater impact on some members over others. The leader-member exchange (LMX model) explores how leader-member relationships develop over time and how the quality of exchange relationships impacts outcomes. Studies evaluating characteristics of the LMX relationship explore topics such as communication frequency, value agreement, characteristics of followers, job satisfaction, performance, drive climate, and commitment.

Followers have different relationships with the leader, and the ability of the leader to develop a positive relationship with each subordinate contributes to team performance. The leader-member exchange theory says that high-quality relationships have a positive outcome for leaders, followers, work units, and the organization. Leaders can attempt to build individualized relationships with each subordinate as a way to meet needs for both consideration and structure. To understand the effects of leadership upon outcomes, one must consider the specific relationship behavior between a leader and each follower.

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