Are Leaders Born or Made?

by Jenn Elkin

According to, “Some people think leaders are born—they naturally possess the social intelligence and charisma that motivates others to work together. Others believe that leaders are made—they build their skills with practice, experience and mentoring.

So which is it—born or made?

It turns out that both camps are right. Researchers have found that leaders come by their talents partly through genetics but mostly through hard work and persistence. In fact, one study from The Leadership Quarterlyon heritability (that is, the innate skills you bring to the table) and human development (what you learn along the way) estimated that leadership is 24 percent genetic and 76 percent learned.”

At Pike, we know leadership can be developed, and much of how teachers and students interact daily relates to just this goal. Developing students’ capacity to learn and grow as compassionate community members, creative problem solvers, and people who think critically and independently enhances their growth as leaders and creates a community where teaching and learning happen across the entire school.

8th grade buddy letterOne of the most valuable, meaningful and anticipated leadership opportunities available at Pike happens in our “buddy” programs. In the Lower School, we buddy in two ways: in the Lower School Grade Partners program (where Pre-K and First Grade buddy up and Kindergarten and Second Grade buddy up) and between Lower School and 8th and 9th grade students in our Upper/Lower Buddy Program. What fun it is to build a friendship with someone younger or older than you as part of your every day school work!

We know programs like these benefit everyone involved. For older students, buddy times provide leadership opportunities where they are motivated to be their best when mentoring and modeling for younger students. These gatherings are a chance to demonstrate Upper Schooler’s capacity to teach, a chance to work with younger students to create something meaningful, and a way of joining with peers to supporting each other in building an authentic and broader sense of community.

Benefits for younger students are numerous as well. They gain from older students modeling respectful behavior, social skills, and working collaboratively toward a goal. Building a friendship with an older student further develops a child’s sense of identity as an important member of the larger community. There’s nothing more joyful than watching two Pike students of vastly different ages greet each other across the library, down a hallway, or across a jam-packed all-school assembly. The smiles on both students’ faces glow with pride and excitement.

This week, we had the opportunity for both of these buddy programs to take place. Our Lower School grade partners gathered on Tuesday to work on their coding skills as a follow up to the school-wide “Hour of Code” we all participated in last year. Watching First and Second Graders work with their younger charges to practice taking turns, listen to each other, share their knowledge and praise each other’s efforts was gratifying. Young leaders in the making.

On Wednesday, the Lower School students and their 8th and 9th Grade buddies had a wonderful time creating holiday and thank you cards for U. S. servicemen and women around the world. The activity was placed in context with a short video produced by Rich Noll of Pike’s technology department who is also an air force veteran. (To see the video, click here.)

jennsblog2Typically in these Upper and Lower School buddy gatherings, students work collaboratively on projects and activities, with the older students providing guidance and leadership and younger students offering ideas and hard work. At times these projects have a service component (such as this week’s holiday card making and our fall field trip to Smolak Farms to pick apple drops and donate them to Neighbors in Need and Esperanza Academy).

At other times activities are meant as fun ways to build relationships and camaraderie among the buddies (such as playing name games to get to know one another, reading favorite stories with and to each other, playing board games together, and eating lunch and playing outside together). Depending on the activity, different grade levels take charge in developing the agenda and preparing the materials. It’s these simple, everyday experiences of taking the lead that builds the confidence and skills for these Pike student leaders.


Forbes article:

Benefits of buddy programs:

Hour of Code:

The Pike School is an independent, coed, day school for Pre-K through ninth grade in Andover, Massachusetts. Visit to learn more about Pike – and visit our blog for more thought leadership.


on “Are Leaders Born or Made?
3 Comments on “Are Leaders Born or Made?
  1. Great points! Interesting to know that a large percentage of leadership skills are learned. Which goes to show that opportunities are available for all those open to learning and willing to share that knowledge.

  2. Great post Jenn. The buddy programs were one of my daughter’s favorite aspects to Lower School. Getting to know an upper school student who provided some undivided attention gave her a lot of confidence!

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