Over the weekend, I read a book, "How To Be Exceptional--Drive Leadership Success By Magnifying Your Strengths" by Zenger, Folkman, Sherwin and Steel. Overall, very good read on leadership. A question was posed in the book as to whether leaders are born or made. Believe it or not, there are arguments on both sides.
For the most part, I have always been from the "made, not born" camp, but agree that much of one's leadership ability is hardwired by your mid-twenties. I think back to when I was in middle or high school, and I can't think of anyone who at the time was a born leader. They may have excelled at a sport or held office, but their leadership came from being good at that sport or not shy about getting up to speak in front of people.
Leadership truly evolves over time, as it did for me. I was a shy kid who was an average athlete and an above-average (but not by much) student. When I got to college, I joined a fraternity and went on to become President of the fraternity as well as President of the Greek Council (the Council oversaw all of the fraternities and sororities on campus). I then became part of the Dean of Student's inner circle and was called on whenever something needed to be addressed with the student population. Although I was off to a great start, the hardwiring of my leadership abilities was actually set in my twenties. My college leadership experience originated more from popularity, but evolved to true leadership ability later. By the time I was 20, I was managing a small restaurant, which started to hone my leadership skills. I then became the youngest director of the second largest department at a large teaching hospital by the age of 25, which sealed the deal.
Now to be perfectly honest, you can't completely discount genetics. My grandfather was a human resources executive with a large corporation, and he was significantly engaged in leadership through community service, including serving as a city councilman. My father's twin brother went on to become an executive with Gulf Oil and he, too, was significantly engaged in community service and he served in various leadership positions. So, genetics can play a part with your genes, potentially predisposing you to leadership skills, but your environment and your life stream seem to be what really count. Clearly, leadership development is an area that is critical today and going forward. It needs to be a focus of every organization.