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Is there such a thing as a ‘natural born leader’?

May 4, 2023

Born leaders. They’ve got it all, right? The right skills, the right attitude, the right go-getter approach that guarantees them flying up the career ladder as if gravity didn’t even exist.

And then there’s the rest of us. The people who have to work hard, learn leadership skills, adjust our behaviours to fit the demands of the corporate world.

It’s just unfair, right?

Well, if there was such a thing as a natural born leader, we’d definitely agree.

But after decades of working with leaders, reading studies about leaders, talking about leaders, listening to leaders and, most importantly, coaching leaders, we’re 100% convinced that there’s no such thing.

Here’s why…

[H2] The nature vs nurture debate

It’s the oldest debate in the [psychology] book - does our personality come from nature or nurture? Are we born with predetermined characteristics that shape our approach to every situation we’ll ever face, or are those characteristics learned during our upbringing?

We could spend hours talking about this debate - but the crux of the matter is that there will always be people who firmly believe one side of the debate and just as many who firmly disagree.

Us? We’re sitting in the middle. We don’t deny that genetics play a big role in our personalities and our brains as a whole, but we also can’t deny that upbringing (particularly the experiences in your formative years) plays a big role too.

In the realm of leadership, the same applies. There might be some aspects of personality that are better suited to leadership roles than others - but there is so much more to being a successful leader than just natural predisposition. Someone could have the “perfect” personality for leadership on paper - but if they don’t have the right soft and hard skills or experience, they’re not going to be successful.

[H2] There’s no such thing as a “perfect” leader

If you’re going to believe ‘natural born leaders’ exist, you’ll also have to subscribe to there being a “perfect” blueprint that makes a successful leader.

But what would that blueprint look like? 

There are so many styles of leadership, so many different corporate worlds where leaders need different skills, so many completely different teams who need completely different leaders - is it even possible to distill all of that variation into a single ‘perfect leader’ blueprint?

We don’t think so.

Sure, there are some traits that most successful leaders share. There are elements of personality that make leadership easier for some people - and we’ve written before about the traits that are more likely to make a successful leader:

4 Leadership Skills For Success In 2023

What makes a successful leader?

BUT - here’s the caveat: while there are traits that are more common amongst successful leaders, there are also plenty of successful leaders who don’t have those traits and plenty of unsuccessful leaders who do.

There isn’t one set of personality traits or characteristics that, when combined, are guaranteed to result in a perfect leader for every single possible leadership context. That’s just unrealistic.

And it’s another reason why we don’t believe there are ‘natural born leaders’ - there are people who are born with characteristics that make it more likely they could be successful leaders in some contexts, but no one is born with the perfect set of traits for leadership.

[H2] The most important leadership skills can be learned

Remember those leadership traits we talked about just now?

Most of those aren’t things we’re naturally born with.

Particularly in the modern world where the workplace seems to be changing every 30 seconds, some of the most important leadership traits are centred around emotional intelligence and other soft skills that are developable.

Sure, some people might be born with more emotional intelligence than someone else - but most people have to develop their emotional intelligence and soft skills actively to make the most of their natural dispositions and become effective leaders in the corporate world.

Because of this, some of the best leaders we’ve worked with in coaching and consultancy contexts are those who aren’t naturally (or nurtur-ally) predisposed to being great leaders. They’re people who are determined to become great leaders by working on self-development and learning how to maximise their potential in the workplace.

(Psst: if this sounds like you or someone in your team - we can help develop those skills! Get in touch with our team about bespoke coaching and consultancy for your leadership team.)

Not only that, but people who are born with what we might be tempted to think of as ‘natural leadership skills’ aren’t going to be successful leaders unless they actively work to develop those skills.

Think about it this way: as humans, we exist to do many things. We’ve evolved to be good at surviving in the modern world. BUT we haven’t yet evolved to have natural instincts for success in the corporate world. 

Sitting behind a computer screen managing remote employees and developing digital strategies to hit board-set KPIs? That’s not what our ancestors anticipated for our futures and it’s definitely not something any of us are born to do - successful leaders work hard to develop those specific skills.

[H2] Anyone can be a leader - regardless of their ‘natural’ traits

Hopefully by now you’re convinced that ‘natural born leaders’ don’t really exist…

Which is good news for us all!

Because if there’s no such thing a natural leader, there’s also no such thing as a natural non-leader. What we mean by that is anyone has the potential to be a great leader, regardless of nature or nurture or experience.

The journey to having effective leadership skills might be smoother for some than for others, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth travelling. As long as you have a willingness to learn, an openness to feedback and a drive to do things better or differently, you’re more than able to develop the necessary soft and hard skills for leadership.

Great news, right?!

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