Are Great Leaders Born?

A classic debate which everyone keeps debating on and can’t really have a consensus upon.

The conservatives hang on their faith that leadership is genetic. The magical power to move people, to inspire, to boost them pushing off their limits, it’s all in those leaders’ blood. Such ability is ascribed in ‘chosen’ ones and there’s no way for you to attain it through efforts.

The rest argue that leadership is about tiredlessly making endeavours to train yourself as a leader. Since the basic idea is “You are who you think you are,” once you perceive yourself as a leader, everything else will follow. Implement those ‘leadership quotes’ and principles in daily things you do, and voila! A leader you shall be.

Take, for example, Yusuf Hakim Gumilang. A name I’ll always come up with to answer “Who’s the leader that inspires you the most?” sort of question. He’s that kind of leader who knows his people better than they know themselevs. He notices when one of his staff is missing, he deals with pressure calmly, he embraces problems with solutions. Now the question would be: (1) Could his parents see that ‘seed of leadership’ when he was born? (2) Has he been shining since high school? Or, (3) did he learn to be such a great leader in the process of being Ketua BEM FISIP UI 2010?

Princes (and princesses, to make it fair) can somehow be told to be ‘born with leadership genes’ because to some extent they are surrounded by such environment that ‘shaped’ them to possess certain traits that are required to be move people. This notion might be half-true for today’s royal families, but was an absolute truth back then. If those Hamengkubuwonos weren’t raised in Kasultanan Yogyakarta, I doubt that they would have the skill to lead and charm to be praised.

I always belive that nobody was ever ‘born’ with such behavior (not even Hitler), but human beings learn. Although, there are several among us who are privileged to learn from the best minds and hands. Experiences shape our personality the most.


Hasta Brata, the 8 elements to lead in Javanese philosophy: Sun, moon, star, sky, wind, sea, fire, and earth. Beautiful.

Let’s leave it there. Now my next inquiry would be: is it true that “leaders are those who don’t crave the throne”?

Leaders should indeed be favored by their people’s voices. However, it is not mutually exclusive with the existence of ‘willingness’ in these leaders’ hearts to seize for authority. Matterfact, great leaders’ shining eyes come from their endless stream of ideas and enthusiasm to make it true. Aiming to have a role at the higher post does not necessarilly mean that they are greedy, avaricious beasts. It means that these people have serious concerns to realize their aspirations.

Exhibit A: Hanifah Ahmad, a friend of mine, loves Indonesian Student Association for International Studies (ISAFIS), an organization she’s been engaged with for almost a year. During the process, she detected problems in the body, and wished to make a change, to bring the organization towards betterment, simply because she feels that she belongs to that group of people. She needs to bring her thoughts forward and see how the squad would respond. However, she knows she can do nothing if she’s not there as their ‘head’.

Exhibit B: With no intention to brag or anything, I know my utmost contribution for OIS (a remarkable social science olympiads event at my campus) would be by taking the responsibility as its project officer.

“There’s no such thing as a perfect leader either in the past or present. If there is one, he is only pretending, like a pig inserting scallions into its nose in an effort to look like an elephant.” –Liu Shao-ch’i

I believe that all youngsters have the basic seeds to be great leaders. Idealism and never-ending spirit might become their foremost fertilizer, yet in most cases both fade as these young minds grow as adults. The task is then to preserve and nurture these values so that you can still feel it somewhere in your heart as you sit behind your working desk at your 30s.


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