Natural vs. Learned Leadership Skills

For years, humanity has wondered what makes great leaders successful. Is it nature or nurture? For managers and others in hiring positions, this is a big question that goes beyond the theoretical and philosophical realm. It demands answers. So, can great leadership skills or techniques be taught?

The short answer is yes…and no. The long answer is even messier. Some effective leadership skills not only can be taught, but have to be. Others are inborn in certain people, and there is no real way to teach them to someone that simply doesn’t have them.

Before this can be discussed, however, there needs to be an agreed upon definition of what a leader is and does.

What makes a good leader?

  • Positivism and Energy
  • Ability to Inspire that Energy in Others
  • Strength and Discernment to Make Tough Calls
  • Drive to Get Things Done
  • Passion

When all of these traits come together, leaders can become legendary and inspire those working under them to do nearly anything. Now that a leader has been defined, it is time to look at the traits of natural leaders and what they will have to learn to have sound leadership skills. To start, what exactly makes up these two groups?

Where do leadership skills come from?

Natural Talent

We’ve all had bad managers, someone that didn’t care about the work and put in no effort. This is where being a natural leader comes in. That terrible boss was probably good at certain aspects of the job, just not the people part. Maybe they stayed super organized and got the results upper management wanted, but they treated their coworkers and team poorly. They had some qualities of a leader naturally, but never learned from the others, and so was not a truly great leader.

There is a certain need for a leader to have a positive attitude and to be willing to keep that positive attitude when the work gets tough. This is something fundamentally ingrained in a good leader’s personality. It cannot be taught or forgotten because it is an essential part of them. It’s important to note that I’m not speaking of an irrational positivism that ignores reality. I’m talking about someone who takes even difficult and unfortunate circumstances and creates a game plan to solve the problem and encourages everyone during that time to do their best. That instinct to take initiative and encourage your team is a really key element that is difficult to teach someone if that is not their natural inclination.

Of course, even the most passionate optimist will fail if they have no idea what they are doing. This is where the learned behaviors come in.

Learned Talent

Most fresh hires have no idea how to perform the job perfectly, even if they have all of the predispositions to be great; because they haven’t learned the necessary skills yet. There is no way to naturally know how to execute industry-specific tasks – these are things that come with time and experience.

A lot of this also comes from self-confidence that emerges after some on-the-job experience. Instructing someone on how to do a task is easy when you’ve given the instruction a dozen times before. At that point, you’ve seen what does and doesn’t work, so you’re more confident in your abilities.

The same is true for leaders. They need to learn what they can do before they can become real masters at it. If there is a recent hire that has the right attitude but doesn’t seem to understand his role immediately, there is no reason to be upset. This is part of the natural learning process that makes truly great leaders.

Formation of Leaders

Overall, there really is no one trait that makes someone a great leader. There are people without any natural talents that can become decent leaders through practice and experience, and there are people born with all of the natural aptitudes that make terrible ones because they don’t bother to learn where there are gaps in their natural abilities. It comes down to the combination.

Not everyone can be a great leader, but it is important for accomplished leaders to see the traits in those that can be and nurture those traits. That is the key to hiring great leaders; to see the raw material, then help them grow into their natural talents with practice and experience.

EnVeritas Group has a number of articles about the value of leadership within a business. Learn more today.

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