Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

September 2018
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Leadership Letters

Are Leaders Born or Made?

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

For years, people have debated whether leaders are born or made. Traditionally, debaters fall into four main schools of thought:

The “born-leader” school

This approach asserts that genes are the major forces behind leadership. You are either a “born-leader” or you are not. Since the “right genes” are relatively rare, effective leaders are too.

The “early childhood” school

According to this view, the most important factor in whether someone becomes a leader is his early childhood development. Since the “right family” is also rare, great leaders are too.

The “gifted-leader” school

This view contends that leadership is a supernatural gift that is only given by God to a few. This view carries some Scriptural weight to it, because it is clear in several passages (e.g. Rom. 12:8, Eph. 4:11) that there are particular leadership giftings that God gives only to some (not all) in the church.

The “life experiences” school

According to this belief, a very popular view today, leadership is learned through experiences. Consequently, we can almost “create” leaders simply by giving them the right training or exposing them to the right life experiences.

So what do you think? Which of the four views is right?

Finding a Balance

All people have untapped leadership potential – to some degree.


We all know that some people are “born leaders.” Leadership comes very easily and naturally to them. There are also clear differences due to nature (i.e. genes) and nurture (i.e. early developmental experiences in life) as to how much untapped potential there may be in a particular individual. Of course, we agree that the specific calling and gifting of God differ from person to person, and there is no doubt that the experiences of life (such as work experiences, hardships, opportunities, education, role models and mentors) all go together in the crafting of an individual leader.

As you probably realize by now, a balanced position would accept that all people have untapped leadership potential – to some degree.

So what does this actually mean? Some current brief definitions of leadership are:

Leadership is relationship.

Leadership is influence.

Leadership is vision.

Leadership is transformation.

Leadership is empowerment.

Leadership is personal responsibility.

Leadership is decision-making.

Leadership is team-building.

Leadership is change or managing change.

Leadership is culture.

Leadership is motivation.

Leadership is persuasion.

Leadership is creativity.

Leadership is self-management.

Leadership is communication.

Leadership is character or integrity.

Leadership is credibility.

Leadership is trust.

Leadership is modeling.

Leadership is servanthood.

These are all good definitions of certain aspects of leadership, but none of them is a sufficient definition of leadership overall. They are all too brief, too limited and inadequate. Our broad, essence-level definition of leadership is this:

A leader helps someone move from where he is now to somewhere else.

This definition of leadership encompasses not only the previous aspects, but every context in which leadership occurs.

Exercising Leadership Everyday

We all act as leaders in some capacity!

In leadership in the church, the leader leads the people God has entrusted to his care (1 Pet. 5:2) into spiritual maturity, and the fulfillment of God’s purposes, in which every member is a minister and the people of God know God, love one another and reach the world for Jesus.

In leadership in the home, the father leads his wife, children and extended family into spiritual maturity, and the fulfillment of God’s purposes so that everyone in the family fulfills his potential – intellectually, academically, socially and spiritually.

In Christian business leadership, the leader leads others – including the people working for him, his suppliers, customers and competitors, and the surrounding community – into the glory of God so that his business is a wonderful witness to the Lord Jesus, and so it takes care of the people in it, achieves profitability and provides a genuine service for the community.

At certain times, we are all called to relational leadership, to take responsibility for helping others move ahead in their own lives. In almost everyone’s life, opportunity for spontaneous leadership arises when sudden circumstances require that we lead others in certain ways.

And finally, in personal leadership, we are all called to take responsibility for our own lives, moving ahead to fulfill God’s purposes.

When viewed in this broadest sense, leadership – to some extent – is in all of us.

This is not to suggest that everyone is called to be an “organizational leader” such as pastor or business executive – someone with a formal, positional status of “leader.” We all have very different callings (1 Cor. 12). While we are not all called to be formal, “organizational leaders,” there are many contexts in our lives in which we all are, nevertheless, “leaders.”

However, no matter what level of leadership ability a person currently demonstrates, he or she can make quantum improvements. With learning and practice, we can all be better leaders in whatever context we find ourselves.

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