Leaders: Born Or Made

Leaders: Born Or Made

“Here is the ‘nature or nurture’ question on leadership” I looked at Lulu, my parrot. “Tell me, are leaders born or made?”

“Wow! This is the fourth question on leaders and leadership. Our conversation is now going like the Vikram aur Vetal story.” Lulu moved closer and glanced at the question list on my laptop. (Read the previous three here Power And Leaders , Mindset of Great Leaders , Difficult Decisions for Leaders )

Lulu, my Parrot

“I am not Vetal, Lulu. You are the one who can fly back to the tree! Jokes aside, what do you think? This is an endlessly debated question.” I adjusted my glasses and looked at Lulu.

“Oh, some are gifted persons who are born with ‘leadership’ qualities. But others become leaders. Because they make certain choices.”

“What’s that?”

“I am sure you would have read about Naseema Hurzuk?”

“I am sorry….”

“Datta ji Iswalkar?”

“Yes, of course! Datta ji Iswalkar was the leader of textile workers in Mumbai whose relentless efforts have resulted in more than twenty thousand workers getting housing in Mumbai. One lakh and twenty thousand more are to be handed over. What a great achievement!

Datta ji Iswalkar

“He was a clerk in a Mill. He was not a leader. With destructive aftermath of the textile strike staring in face, Datta ji decided to protect workers’ interests; and he became their leader.”

“I did not know this, Lulu.”

Naseema Hurzuk was a girl without any disability till she was sixteen. Then the tragedy struck and she was paralysed. She founded the organisation called ‘Helpers of the Handicapped’. Their idea was to make medical treatment accessible and affordable, also to rehabilitate physically challenged people in the society, given their special needs and abilities.”


Dr Naseema Hurzuk

“They now have an integrated residential school, a treatment centre, a rehab centre, a vocational training centre, a gas agency (to sustain their finances so that they need not wholly depend upon donations and charity), experimental activities in small-scale sector and an integrated village near Kudal.”

“There must be more such stories of people fighting their way to glory.”

“Glory comes later. Remember they made a choice. The choice was to solve, proactively, a certain social issue. That decision transformed them into leaders. Great leaders.”

“Very inspiring. But you say ‘choice.’ What choice do ordinary and say, for example, illiterate persons have?”

“Naseema and Datta ji were not eminent persons when they made their choices. Look, at your home you are the leader, unfortunately many do not recognise this situation. You, as the head of the family, must make choices which will leave behind a rich legacy. Haven’t you heard of Dr. Narendra Jadhav?”

“Yes of course. He was the Vice Chancellor of Savitribai Phule Pune University, and headed economic research at the Reserve Bank of India.”

“Read his autobiography to understand how his illiterate father played a big role in his development. I am talking of the leadership role played by Narendra Jadhav’s father.”

“True. There are several stories of parents being role models for their sons and daughters. They shape the culture at home. They engage in conversations that create mindsets of leaders. They influence their family and often make untold sacrifices.”

“Don’t forget that they made their choices – of leading the family, putting certain virtues in practice. They built their own character and shaped the characters of their children. And if you read the autobiographies of many unlettered men you will see that they made the choice to play the lead role.”


Leadership is not the exclusive domain of the educated. It never was. It is not the out of bounds area for the unlettered.”

“What made them make those choices?”

“That’s a difficult question to answer. Sometimes circumstances, sometimes an event sends lightening bolt. It’s a wake-up call. Everything changes then. It is the diktat of one’s awareness.”

Dr Baba Amte

“I remember Dr Baba Amte’s life story. He saw a leprosy patient lying in the road. He gave him treatment, set up leprosy treatment hospital. I am talking about Anandwan. Dr Baba Amte was not a doctor; he made a choice to dedicate his life to a social cause; and look at the institutions he has created!”

“I take your point. Leaders are not born, not made. Forget nature and nurture. You can’t make them leaders through training unless people make certain choices.”

“And work proactively. Don’t forget that!” Lulu said. “Lulu, you are not just my friend, philosopher and guide. You are my leadership coach too!” Lulu and I looked out of the window. The morning sun was coming out of clouds.

Vivek S Patwardhan

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

(Gratefully acknowledging Outlook Magazine, ‘Dr. Naseema Hurzuk’ 11 Oct 2005 for Naseema Story)