“Are you leadership material?”
If you’ve been thinking all this time that you’re not leadership material because you don’t have that “certain something,” this might change your mind: There’s no such thing as a natural born leader.
The very idea of someone being a “natural” anything implies it’s in your genes. But genetic predisposition has nothing to do with being a leader, says Warren Blank, author of “The 108 Skills of Natural Born Leaders” (Amacom.)
A leader is a person who gains willing followers, he says. And leaders gain followers because “they provide a direction and utilize influence methods that attract others to willingly support them and their direction.” The ability to do that is based on a set of skills–skills you can learn and master.
Some people get labeled “natural born leaders” because they effortlessly and consistently demonstrate these skills. But they weren’t born with those skills any more than you were. They worked very hard at it.
This notion of “natural born leaders” fulfills our romantic need for heroes, says Blank, in which we desire larger-than-life characters to inspire us. We want to know there are some people who can bear any burden, overcome any obstacle, and succeed in any situation. This, he says, offers a sense of security, a degree of hope and sets a model for us to hone and strive for. What it comes down to is that we want to believe in natural born leaders.
But this myth creates an inaccurate mind-set that’s limiting. It gives people an excuse for not trying to lead. Anyone can be a leader by learning the skills of the best and most exceptional leaders and having an understanding of their capabilities. Blank creates a portrait of the person who has these skills–one hundred and eight of them, to be exact. He groups them into three categories:
Foundational skills: These are the basics that include being aware of your strengths, weaknesses, beliefs and motives and having the ability to build rapport and clarify your expectations.
Leadership direction skills: This includes the ability to know when to step up and provide direction and how to chart a course of action.
Leadership influence skills: This is the ability to gain commitment and inspire as opposed to requiring people to do things.
It’s true that some people have an inherited ability to learn more easily. But true greatness–even in the case of leadership–requires practice of these skills. You have an innate ability to learn and grow. So even if there is no such thing as a natural born leader, you do have a natural born capacity to lead. It’s a matter of making the choice to upgrade your skills, understand your capabilities and decide you want to more closely resemble this portrait of what others call a “natural born leader.”