Leaders: Born, Made, or Chiseled?

Leaders are born. And leaders are made.

It’s never one or the other. It’s always a combination of the two. I’m convinced of this.

Some are more born than made, though. Natural leaders. They seem to have an easier path, hitting their leadership stride and making a difference at an early age, building from there, even given life’s normal ups and downs.

Others require more making along the way. Late bloomers, not as naturally inclined to leadership. They spend their early years as students, not so much practitioners, fading to the background while soaking in all they can from the leaders around them, before stepping into their own.

But, there is yet a third group, those who follow a more difficult path. Their lives filled with layers of obstacles, adversities, and setbacks. Their path to true leadership and making a difference requires a chipping and chiseling away of the weight of things they never asked for.

This chiseling is hard, tedious, and time-consuming work.

Imagine you are a sculpture, a work of art, frozen deep inside a block of raw marble, not yet free. Pride is the outer layer encasing you from who you are intended to be. Belief is the next layer down, just below pride. Belief that you can be that which you know to be true. And, deeper still, is truth—the last layer before freedom.

My Uncle Danny experienced this chipping and chiseling of things not asked for. He was a Vietnam War hero—five Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts, just for starters. I’ve seen the other dozen or so medals that hung on his wall. He was the real deal, as they say.

He was thin, especially in his teens and twenties. Perfect for being a “tunnel rat,” the guy designated, and designed, to crawl into enemy holes, alone, on search and destroy missions.

Only heroes crawl into enemy holes, where every inch forward might be your last.

Danny had other brothers who served in the military, including my dad. They all served with distinction, but never saw battle. They never had to crawl into the dark of an enemy tunnel, aim their weapon at another human being, or have a friend die in their arms as the helicopter pulled away from a battle site.

They weren’t layered with the trauma and burden and weight that war piles onto those who’ve experienced it.

Danny was.

I loved seeing Danny in his later years. Never without his Vietnam War ball cap, or his thick album of pictures and memorabilia from his Army days. And always with a huge smile on his face.

It took years, decades, for Danny to overcome his PTSD, the shell shock he so often experienced, and the nightmares. But he allowed himself to be chipped and chiseled, letting the trauma fall away, so it would no longer have a hold on him. He could freely be himself again, the person he was meant to be.

All leaders are born leaders. Some just experience life a little differently. More harshly. Like climbing up the rough side of a mountain. It can take years, even decades, of allowing ourselves to be chiseled away at so we can be set free, free to be the leader we were born to be.

This chipping and chiseling requires vulnerability, trust, truth, and forgiveness. And a lot of time.

Being vulnerable to others, trusted friends and confidants, is healing, and worth the work. Truth ultimately heals, though. Not facts, and not your truth versus someone else’s, but, ultimate truth.

Born, made, or chiseled. It doesn’t matter. The journey matters. Growth matters. Continual growth. And making a difference matters, always seeking to make a difference, everyday—in our family, business, community, and world.

And the journey isn’t solely about becoming the leader we were born to be, but really more about becoming who we were born to be. And that freedom is worth a lifetime of chipping and chiseling and carving.


John Hughes