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Neither Born nor Made By R. Scott Rodin

The Truth Beyond the “Born or Made” Debate

There’s an ongoing debate in leadership studies as to whether great leaders are born or made. The nature vs. nurture discussion has focused on successful leadership traits and asked whether these were inherent in some people’s DNA or acquired skills that some people have learned and plied more successfully than others. The crux of this debate has focused on the qualities of leadership.

The Debate

The’ born’ camp has attempted to identify innate traits in personality and behaviors that uniquely equip confident leaders for success. Whether charisma, self-confidence, or an aptitude for visionary thinking, successful leaders have used this intrinsic advantage to rise above others in the leadership ranks.

The ‘made’ camp points to the experience of many who, while not naturally gifted for leadership, still found success through study, practice, accountability, and mentoring. They were ‘made’ great by the external inputs that could overcome their inborn inadequacies for the job. The ‘made’ camp has spearheaded the flood of leadership courses, books, training, and programs that overwhelm our inboxes.

While leadership training is valuable and necessary, and some innate traits can prove helpful if appropriately employed in leadership work, we are still faced with the rather stunning reality that we remain in a crisis of impactful leadership. So-called natural-born leaders are failing and flailing just as dramatically as those who learned their way into the vocation. After 50+ years of intense focus on leadership training, we face an adequate number of quality leaders in every area of business, politics, and ministry. What are we missing?

Flawed Methodology

Part of the answer may be found in a flawed methodology. Consider that most leadership books start with the question, “What do I need to do to be a good leader?” Their process begins by defining outstanding leadership, comparing it to how we lead, and then adjusting our behavior to that of great leaders. Then voila, and like magic, we become the great leader we try to emulate. Following this methodology, leadership books teach traits and techniques, implying that if you do what great leaders do, you will be transformed into great leaders. Of course, that seldom happens.

The problem is not with the quality of the leadership techniques they teach but with the assumption that leadership is mostly about what we do and only partially about who we are. That’s where we must depart from the standard way of teaching about leadership and take a different route.

Freed to Lead

At the Center for Steward Leader Studies, we propose that the choice between born and made is false. There is a third way. Great leaders in God’s kingdom, leaders whom God can and has used to accomplish great things for the kingdom of God, are neither born nor made; they are freed to lead!

God frees us to be steward leaders.

Becoming a Steward Leader

Becoming a steward leader who’s been set free does not start with our life as a leader but with our life as a follower of Jesus. We must first be transformed in our understanding of what it means to be faithful in our Christian walk before we look at its implications for how we lead. That is the new methodology: from who we are becoming as disciples of Jesus to the impact of that transformation when we step into leadership. In addition to offering a third way in the nature-nurture debate, this is also where the steward leader is distinct from servant leadership. Both are biblical, but too often, we can respond to the command to be servant-leaders by applying behaviors that make us look like servants. When we ask, “How would a servant-leader lead?” we have already missed the mark. Put another way, we can practice servant-leadership techniques but never believe that we are indeed servants. Without a heart change, servant-leadership becomes just another technique in our toolbox we can use when we think it might work.

Focus On The Journey

We must resist the temptation to look for a set of rules or lists of principles or traits to follow. Instead, we must start by paying attention to our journey of becoming a faithful steward and then discovering what it means to be a steward leader. As we let the Holy Spirit transform our understanding of a faithful steward’s life and commit to going deeper with Jesus on that journey, we will be prepared to lead more faithfully and powerfully than ever. Jesus first wants faithful stewards, then calls those stewards into leadership. When our heart is changed, our work as a leader will also be altered. Our word for this change is freedom.


This freedom is wholly transformative and summons from us our obedient response. That obedient response determines the effectiveness of our work. A steward leader’s calling and function are based on this transformation. As we are transformed into godly stewards, we are freed to fulfill our vocation as steward leaders. It is God’s calling, Christ’s redemption, and the Holy Spirit’s transformation that we rely on for our success. In this way, leadership is a work of our triune God in and through us. And if it is God’s work, and we are called to respond obediently, then we are freed to lead courageously and humbly and trust God for the increase.

This freedom does not come quickly. Our enemy wants nothing more than to enslave us again to a bondage that will rob us of all we have gained. Tri Robinson comments,

In this journey toward freedom, we must remember that remaining in a place of freedom doesn’t just happen.  The enemy is forever trying to thwart God’s best plan for your life through temptation and the lure of ‘something better.’  Once we taste freedom, we must understand that the only way to remain in that place is through the disciplined practice of spending time deepening our relationship with God.[1]

For the steward leader, this bondage comes from a desire to forsake the freedom of the steward for the lure of absolute ownership. It may seem strange to oppose freedom with ownership, but that is our battle. Ownership here means a thirst for control, power, and lordship. Freedom requires humility and trust; ownership tells us that we are indispensable, have all the answers, and that our organizations could not live without us. 

This must be seen for what it is – the lie of the enemy that stands directly opposed to the truth of God. The life of a steward leader is a battle for truth. Steward leaders are truth-tellers because they know the truth that has set them free. 


While you may have been born with certain traits that can be used in God’s service as a leader, and while you may be the product of years of education and practical training in the mechanics of leadership, God will only be able to use you to the extent that you are fully surrendered to him and are experiencing the freedom to lead as a humble and obedient steward of all that God has entrusted to you. May your leadership be richly blessed as you steward it for God’s glory.

Portions of this blog were taken from The Steward Leader (IVP, 2010) and Set Free to Lead (Kingdom Life Publishing, 2022). Both books will be discussed at the Leadership Intensive taught by Dr. Rodin and other leaders from the Center for Steward Leader Studies

[1] Robinson, Tri. Small Footprint, Big Handprint. (Ampelon, 2008) pp. 90-91


R. Scott Rodin is the Senior Consultant/Chief Strategy Officer for The Focus Group. Over the past thirty-eight years, Scott Rodin has helped hundreds of organizations improve their effectiveness in leadership, fund development, strategic planning, and board development. Be sure to read Dr. Rodin’s newest book titled The Greater Mission.


What is Christian Leadership Alliance?

Christian Leadership Alliance equips and unites leaders to transform the world for Christ. We are the leaders of Christ-centered organizations who are dedicated to faithful stewardship for greater kingdom impact.

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