Leadership: Nature vs Nurture Part 1

Are leaders born or made? Is it built into our nature (our genes), or can we learn it through nurture (our environment)? A lot is at stake in the answer.

If leaders are born, then people are either locked in or locked out. There is no hope for leadership development programs. If leaders can be made, then mentorship and personal development programs are useful tools.

The reality is that leaders are born AND made. Just as some people are born with genes that give them an advantage in athletic performance, so some people are born with natural tendencies and skills that make them better equipped to be leaders. However, just because you are born with a certain skill-set or genetic advantage doesn’t mean you will actually take advantage of it. If you don’t put in the work and nurture that advantage, someone who has worked hard to develop and nurture that skill set can surpass you.

As Tim Nokte said, "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work".

I want to start off by saying this:

You are made in the image of God! You are wonderfully and fearfully made. Your very nature, your very essence, is worthy and special simply because you exist. This was granted to you by your Creator, not other humans or governments.

As we look at how our nature and nurture play key roles into who we are as people, I hope you are inspired and encouraged. It is not one or the other. It is both aspects working beautifully together to demonstrate to you how amazing a human being you are.

In this week's post, we will look at the impact of nature.

It is a fact that we are born with certain qualities and characteristics. Your natural physical characteristics are dependent on your genes: eye color, hair color, height, ability to gain muscle, etc. Even some of your personality is determined by genes!

You are also born with certain tendencies when it comes to communication. Some people are naturally good at speaking in public. Others are shy. Some people always seem to find a way into the spotlight, without even trying; others stay as far away from it as possible. Some people are born tall, others short. Some are born with higher pitched voices, some with lower pitches.

These biological differences affect the way we show up in the world in more ways than we can imagine. It is therefore important to know our nature. It is important to know what makes you “you”.

What does this have to do with leadership?

1. Your nature might put you at an advantage or disadvantage when it comes to leadership, but it doesn’t exclude you from leadership. Leaders must be able to speak in public, communicate clearly, and interact with and influence people. People who naturally have those tendencies might have an advantage in the leadership arena because of that. However, as we will discuss later, just because these are not your naturally tendencies does not mean you cannot develop these skills. Some of the best public speakers are introverts!

2. Society often has a collective perception of what a given trait means. Take vocal pitch, for example. Studies show that a lower vocal pitch is associated with trustworthiness. Men and women with a lower vocal pitch (due to testosterone levels) are perceived as stronger and more competent. Politicians with a lower vocal pitch are more likely to get elected. CEOs with a lower vocal pitch are more likely to lead larger firms and be paid more. While voice pitch alone is not THE deciding factor, it is A factor. Why is this? Our voices tend to go up in pitch when we are nervous. When we hear that lower pitch, we assume someone is not nervous, and assume they are in control.

What does this mean if you have a higher vocal pitch? Learn to manage your voice when speaking in public. You don’t need to change your vocal pitch, but be aware of it. Be sure to breathe deeply and talk at a measured pace. When you are nervous or in a heated conversation, be mindful that you might need to lower your pitch so that it stays in your normal range, instead of your nervous range.

It is helpful to know what perception others have of certain traits so that you know how to strategize when you present yourself.

3. Be aware of the difference between correlation and causation. Correlation is when two or more attributes have a habit of varying together. Causation is when one attribute causes the other to move. We have a habit of assuming that if two attributes move in the same direction, they are causing each other to move. We then assign our own meaning to those attributes, which impacts how we choose to show up.

For example, leaders tend to be taller than the average person. When looking at that data, a person who is “short” could conclude that only tall people can become leaders, and therefore write themselves off. The truth is that height and leadership are correlated, in the same way that vocal pitch and leadership are correlated. There is no causal link. You can be shorter than your society’s average and still be a leader. Don’t be so quick to write yourself off!


Your nature (biology, psychology, chemistry) has an impact on you and how you show up. It influences the way you think, your predominant modes of communication, preferences, height, and so much more. The meaning you and society apply to those characteristics also impacts the way you show up in the world.

A self-leader seeks to understand her nature. She wants to know what her natural tendencies are and how to leverage them or minimize their negative impact.

Stay tuned for next week as we dive into how your nurture (environment) affects your leadership ability.

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