Managers Born Made

Are Managers Born or Made? – Debunking

The Darwinian Approach to Management Development

“Over the years, it has become increasingly clear that traditional approaches to training, program design and delivery in the workplace and in associative organizations present some important weaknesses. Problem areas include: coping with the short life span of useful knowledge; passing down acquired competencies to succeeding cohorts; accommodating the demands of productivity while providing for a continuity of learning; and enabling learners to pursue activities that correspond to their learning styles and needs”

  • Bouchard, Self-Directed Learning in Organizational Settings


Good managers are said to be the key to any organization’s success. Good and effective managers are believed to possess the qualities that are crucial to the development and preservation of good management systems within an organization. The question that must under scrutiny is whether good managers are ‘born,’ if they are innately good in the sense that they already possess the qualities needed to be successful executive leaders in the future. Or are good managers made? Are they nurtured and shaped to become the ones that a stable and competent organization needs? Is the Darwinian notion about good managers being born and not made true? And is it still applicable in our organizational settings today? Or is there a better approach as to know how to realize the potential of those who work hard to be in the position of managers (or executives) in cost-effective way, and without jeopardizing the organizational performance within the process? These are the questions that will be discussed in this paper.

For some organizations, the Darwinian approach to management development a philosophy that says: Good managers are born, not made, holds much truth; but the common organizational failures being observed in various organizations may actually mean that this theory is, of course, not always true. A more concrete and effective philosophy in managerial development must be determined by an organization to avoid jeopardizing the company/organization with costly and less effective management development approaches. But before we can establish a better philosophy when it comes to developing effective management within an organization, the concept of management development must be understood first.

Werner and DeSimone (2006) defined management development as:

“An organization’s conscious effort to provide its managers (and potential managers) with opportunities to learn, grow, and change, in hopes of producing over the long term a cadre of managers with the skills necessary to function effectively in that organization.”

The authors also named three main components which are usually used in providing management development: (1) management education, (2) management training, and (3) on-the-job experiences.

The strategies mentioned greatly contribute to the process of developing effective managers. According to Williamson (2006), effective managers are those who possess great skills, skills that go beyond managing an team or any level of an organization by just telling others what to do and how to do things. Williamson also made a list of skills and characteristics that a manager must possess for him/her to be called good and effective. These skills are listed in the table below.

1. ‘Effective managers are knowledgeable. They understand the goals and objectives of the company. They fully understand their responsibilities, duties and expectations. An effective manager also possesses the knowledge to answer any questions or concerns from those who report to them.’

2.‘Effective managers understand and appreciate the value of their team. They understand that the success of the business rests on the quality and productivity of their team. Without a well produced product the business stands little chance of success.’

3.‘Effective managers are consistent in every way, whether it is coaching, mentoring, giving direction or discipline, it is performed the same way for everyone no exceptions ever. An effective manager talks the talk and walks the walk.’

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4.‘Effective managers dress the part. They wear clean and pressed clothing, shine their shoes and practice proper hygiene. To be successful you need to look successful.’

5.‘Effective managers are human. They understand that their teams are human beings and not robots and they treat them as such. An effective manager can tell a good story or joke, be empathetic to someone’s needs and everything in between.’

6.‘Effective managers are great motivators. They take the time to get to know each member of their team and learn what motivates them. In most cases an effective manager knows his people better than they know themselves.’

7.‘Effective managers possess excellent listening skills. Listening to ideas, feedback or concerns and taking the time to paraphrase and think things through before providing an answer. This one skill alone will build trust and respect from your team very quickly.’

8.‘Effective managers are great communicators. They are able to adapt their communication style to those they are speaking to. There are those who want an answer that is straight to the point – no fluff no filler. On the other side of the coin there are those who like to banter for awhile and get to the subject eventually. It is important to know your audience and adapt your communication style to theirs, not theirs to yours.’

9.‘Effective managers lead by example. A great manager wills someone to do something that they wouldn’t do themselves. They are never afraid to jump right in and get their hands dirty.’

10.‘Effective managers take responsibility for their decisions and actions. They will hold themselves accountable for everything they do. There are no excuses or blaming others.’

11.‘Effective managers know how to manage their time. They learn to use their time efficiently and pass those skills to their team. Some managers give rewards to members of their team who find a way to produce their product in less time while maintaining quality.’

Managers are known to be leaders. They lead people, they encourage them to work, and they shall set good examples. Thus, to be effective managers, the process of development must be strictly taken in consideration.

Pun (2006) noted that development is not only transition through hierarchal levels and not as simple as adding on more skills or technical know-how. In his discussion, he provided an argument in relation to executive leaders. He said that there are no DEVELOPED Senior Executives, there are only DEVELOPING Senior executives. And this perception is also true to managers, we can also say that there are no DEVELOPED managers but only developing ones. This argument is solely based on the idea that development is a ‘career long process.’

There are those who believe in the Darwinian concept. Take for example what John Coxon, the founder and principal consultant of an organization, believes in:

“We persist with the belief that managers are born not made – well at least we do when it comes to providing management training. It appears that we believe any manager worth their salt will develop competencies by osmosis. This is partially true; much management competency is the result of accumulated experience. In the past, when managers took many years to work their way up through the system, this was very true. In today’s workplace we promote the majority of managers on demonstrated competency rather than longevity. The result is many managers are younger and have not had the opportunity to accumulate experience. So what do we do? We send them away to residential management courses to learn the theory. Yes while there they engage in role places and situational game play, but these are no substitute for practical experience. Don’t misunderstand. Management training and ongoing training is essential, some would even suggest critical. The key is to apply critical analysis to those providing the training. Look for trainers with practical experience to back up the theory. Look for trainers with practical experience rather than just case studies. Look for trainers able to blend theory, case studies and their practical experience. Look for trainers that follow up their training with coaching, so as to increase the potential for implementation of concepts and methods” (Coxon, 2008).

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But still, there are of course those who think otherwise. Duft (n.d.) said that the born not made argument is more delusive than real. This kind of thinking is usually supported by the idea that skills, even leadership skills in the organizational level, can be nurtured through education, intensive training and self-developed passion and determination.

The problem with this management development belief is that training and development programs intended for the improvement of managers can be costly and rather very time consuming. Therefore, the need for cost-effective management development approach is very crucial during this time of much more complex and ever changing working environment.

Thompson et al. (1998) named three important factors that must be considered in the organizational level when it comes to development processes:

  • ‘The recognition of the need for a business strategy that would enable the organization to manage increased complexity;’
  • ‘A positive internal labor market where there is an open skill and career structure and where training and development opportunities are seen as an aid to recruitment;’ and

(3) ‘An organizational context where the “internal actors and systems” favor an integrated approach to recruitment, learning, and career development.’

Lutza (2005) also gas his own version of this. He gave five key concepts wherein the practice of good managers must revolve. These five concepts must be part of the routine of those who want to succeed in the future, not just in the managerial position but also for the preparation of much bigger opportunities as executives in the future. These include the following:

  • Motivation: ‘True leadership can be seen in action when managers motivate their teams to meet their mission.”
  • Attitude: ‘Attitude dictates performance. A positive mental attitude is contagious, and if a leader has it, his or her department will catch it’ (Lutza, 2005).
  • Communication: ‘Having a vision, a great attitude, and a hardworking staff is useless if you cannot communicate with your employees. This means both talking to them and listening to what they have to say’ (Lutza, 2005).
  • Integrity: ‘Another key to effective leadership is to maintain absolute integrity at all times. This means that managers must have a code that they live by, and they must not waver from it’ (Lutza, 2005).
  • Decisiveness: Managers must learn to trust themselves and make a decision’ (Lutza, 2005).

Pun (2006) discussed four models of development directions which can actually help us understand the factors involved in developing effective management development strategies. The four includes roles, competencies, management process and own goals. These four development strategies can be considered ‘self-induced’ since the values being developed cannot be solely enhanced by theoretical and practical influences.

  • Development towards ‘Roles’

A manager must understand his/her own roles in order to nurture knowledge and skills about managing an organization. A manager must work hard to be able to play specific roles (i.e. team lead, informational, performance management, people developer, etc) (Pun, 2006).

  • Development towards Leadership Competencies

An effective manager must be able to display certain researched competencies which are associated with effective performance (i.e. customer service orientation, fiscal accountability innovation, result orientation, and team work) (Pun, 2006).

  • Development towards Management Process

An effective manager must become better in planning, organizing, leading and controlling.

  • Development towards Own Goals

‘Individuals identify and pursue their own development goals in the light of the perception of their own needs and their future’ (Pun, 2006).


Coxon (2008) noted the importance of managers in an organization as well as the need to nurture them. He said that managers are the glue that holds an organization together as they form this very important connection between management and staff. He even called them the “implementers of strategy”. What Coxon emphasized is that in most organizations, middle managers have very small chance of progressing to an executive role and the small percentage often leads to either ‘a high turnover of middle managers or stagnation fueled by frustration, which in turn, leads to mediocrity’. Then, managers and future managers must have mentors. This recommendation sees the potential of developing the middle managers through the help of different mentors. However, management coaching is most likely to be expensive. But still the need for it is also very great.

The cost-effective way of developing managers within organization can be through a self-directed learning scheme. Just like what was discussed above, self-induced or self-directed learning can help develop future managers as it can be more powerful (when it is systematic. An organization can initiate self-directed learning programs which hold more advantages than other traditional forms of instruction in the workplace (McNamara, n.d.). Self-directed learning programs:

  • ‘Are more effective in development because learning accommodates employees’ learning styles and objectives
  • Save substantial training costs because learners learn to help themselves and each other with practical and timely materials
  • Achieve increased employee effectiveness in their jobs as they learn to learn from their own work experiences and actually apply their learning in their places of work’ (McNamara, n.d.).

Mcnamara (n.d.) also noted that management development, being a planned effort that develops the learner’s capacity to manage organization, is a process which highly involves the very important skill of managing own learning. The old Darwinian philosophy, for that reason, cannot be considered a restrictive truth in the level of organizational management, but it is the career long learning experience that develops good and effective managers.

To end this, the strongest argument in relation to management development presented in this paper must not be forgotten:

There are no DEVELOPED managers,

There are only DEVELOPING ones.


The Darwinian approach is no longer applicable today; that I believe so. Good managers may be born to be one, but it is dedication, hard work, and professionalism that made them. The only problem about this is that good screening process is needed in the future in order to get hold of highly qualified and deserving managers. for an organization to come up with a better process as to assess and develop the organization’s managers in the future, the need for good system and cost-effective way of developing the potential countries is very important.


Coxon, J. (2008). Nurturing those middle managers. [Online]. Available at [Accessed July 20, 2008].

Duft, K.D. Agribusiness managers are born, not made. [Online]. Available at [Accessed July 20, 2008].

Lutz, C.W. (2005). Leading by Example: To Motivate Their Teams, Managers Must Have a Positive Attitude, a Clear Vision, Good Communication Skills, and Integrity. Security Management, 49 (10), pp.44.

McNamara, C. Strong Value of Self-Directed Learning in the Workplace: How Supervisors and Learners Gain Leaps in Learning. [Online]. Available at [Accessed July 20, 2008].

Pun, A. (2006). Contemporary Approaches to Executive Leadership Development— A Critical Review. [Online]. Available at [Accessed July 20, 2008].

Thompson et al. (1998). The Determinants of Management Development: Choice or Circumstance? International Studies of Management & Organization. 28(1), pp. 91.

Werner, J.M. & DeSimone, R.L. (2006). Human Resource Development. 4th Edition. Mason, Ohio: Thompson South-Western.

Williamson, I. (2006). Developing Effective Managers. [Online]. Available at 20060515DevelopingEffectiveManagers.html. [Accessed July 20, 2008].

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