Perhaps the most gnawed-on bone in the larder of fashionable topics about leadership is the question, “Are leaders made (in the sense of trained) or born?”
It’s the wrong question. It’s neither one.
You don’t become a leader by declamation. Not even your own. A leader is a person who gets cast into a leadership role by the vagaries of history. If she plays the role superbly in the eyes of others, she will be canonized. It is public veneration (however vexingly that gets created!) that determines her standing in the pantheon of “leaders,” past and present. That veneration may be local. Or it may be universal.
Leaders are celebrities. They are public icons. Any relationship between how they exist in the public imagination and in reality is purely concocted. It doesn't take long to discover that our celebrity leaders in the West have rarely ever been without significant moral flaws. Leadership roles are not filled or invented only by those who are markedly virtuous.
But all that makes little difference. It is how the image gets constructed, that matters.
Jack Welch apparently had more PR-sense than anything else. All facts are immaterial in a concocted world. So leaders are created not in any real world, but in the world of public imagination. It is the image that counts. What gets transformed is not the person. It is the image—the icon.
Leaders are not made, or born, they are created. One cannot “learn” how to be a celebrity. One has to make the performance by which one is judged the standard by which all other performances in that role will thereafter be judged.