Leaders Don’t Always Think About Being Leaders


July 12, 2010

Leaders don’t always think about being leaders.  They just do it.

  • They lead.
  • They take charge.
  • They take ownership and responsibility.

This comes whether they are getting a paycheck for it or not.  Disagree?

You only have to look as far as your nearest kid to see that there is always one in the group who will tell the others what sport or game they should play, who should be on each team, and when they are going to do it.  Some kids perceive this person to be bossy, but what they are really doing is taking the lead.  From those early childhood moments, leaders begin honing and refining their leadership style.  By the time these school yard leaders reach the business world, they typically have a good deal of experiences that have taught them how to read people, how to influence others, how to negotiate and when to manipulate, and how to stay ahead of the pack when it comes to opportunities.

The interesting part is that these people are not always the people who wind up in leadership positions in your organization.  Look around.  What’s intriguing in the workplace are the informal leaders- those who don’t have a leadership title- who are the ones in a department who get the other employees behind their mission.  These informal leaders are the one that can get things done at the staff level.  They can also prevent initiatives from taking hold.  They may not be thinking about being leaders, but they are.  Pay attention to this group when you need to:

  • Institute any change that will affect all employees
  • Want to promote opportunities to team across departments
  • Need to get feedback, participation, and buy-in on a specific topic

So, for all the articles and books you can read about how to be a better leader, it doesn’t change that fact that for many, it’s something that you’re born with.  What do you think?  Are leaders “born”?


  • its a question many of us have pondered for years – while I think some of the basics of good management (well run meetings, budget management, follow talent management practices) can be taught, I have come to the conclusion a few people have the unique passion and make up to “lead” – inspire followers and organizations

    thanks for the post!

  • Leadership IS a natural-born trait.

    Rarely have I found true leaders to be bossy. I have found the bossy types to always have an undercurrent of mutiny brewing right under their noses, usually by the ones who suck up the most. When the tyranny of bossiness becomes to much to bear, these types are either overthrown or are otherwise left ineffective by their team desserting them.

    Most good leaders I have observed rarely want the job and/or title of “leader”, as they “just do it”. Good leaders make others around them aspire to complement the leader. Generally, they get little praise or appreciation until they have left the fold.

  • I believe the “instincts” of a leader is a born trait.
    Yes many want to learn the skills of leadership but these are processes.
    The best leaders “feel the values and mission and have vision” These are not easily “taught” They can be learned like rote.. but we know the difference
    Too many people mix the roles of leader and manager.

  • Interesting: I believe that leadership can be a learned behavior just as readily as a natural one. My observation about leaders is that leaders see a need that isn’t being addressed and fill it. Therefore, I feel this requires a particular viewpoint.

    As a general rule, I am disinclined to accept the idea that a person’s mindset or view is immutable and fixed because I have witnessed people change fundamentally. But this definitely requires an openness to seeing things from multiple perspectives.

  • Hi Trish,

    Working with so many people in “leadership” within orgs, we are always so struck with how much confusion there is about what leadership is and can be. It is interesting how many people identify leadership solely with personality – and often, with behaviors that we’d identify as more aggressive than assertive.
    There also appears to be a lot of debate about whether managers can be leaders – and usually conversations break down around task orientations.
    We believe that leadership is a mindset, and that everyone has the potential for their various talents to be developed towards natural leadership.
    The best leaders, we find, are sincere, passionate and collaborative in nature. That qualifies anyone to be a leader, in any position, in any industry or field.
    Thx for the thoughtful post,

  • Hi

    If we say that leadership is a “born with” trait, then there is no reason for the people in leadership positions to build their skills as leaders – it’s a disabling view.

    There may be some innate personality characteristics that are more helpful for leaders, however most of the behavioural demonstration of leadership characteristics can be learnt – examples are empathy, engagement, taking charge.

    Having developed leadership programs for more than 6 thousand people, I can say that mostly what leaders struggle with is moving beyond the innate and learnt behaviours that hold them back as leaders – fear, envy, competitive behaviour. Learning new behaviours is the key.


  • @ Amanda-

    It seems that many people who need your help don’t seek it. So many people whom I have worked for over the years think that all it takes to be a leader is to become the boss. In my experiences, many people who aspire to leadership positions feel that they already have the tools in place to become the king/queen, when it is, in so many cases so far from the truth.

    The traits you bring up that one must overcome in order to be a good leader are the main reasons the people I have worked for over the years would have mass walk-outs. These so-called leaders end up scrambling to find new workers on a regular basis as their fear, jealousy and competitive behaviours drive employees away.

    Having six thousand alumni, you are living proof that leadership can be taught. But so many people still don’t become educated in leadership skills, which is why many of us think leadership is an innate quality.

    Maybe leadership could be taught at University?

  • Provocative post, Trish. I say that leaders are sometimes born, but always made. There are some people who emerge from adolescence with a more developed and seemingly “natural” set of important leadership skills. But even the talented ones need to make a commitment to lead and then spend a lifetime developing a complex mix of skills.

    You mention the vaunted “leaders without title.” They can do important things in an organization, but there’s a crucial difference between those who have chosen to take on a leadership position and those who lead without one. The ones who’ve made the choice have an accountability that positionless leaders don’t have.

  • The nature v nurture dialogue continues. We first have to lead ourselves, however what does that say about those who can’t get out of their own way. The answer to the question of nature v nurture remains yes.

    I learned my leadership in the Boy Scouts. Others learn their leadership on the playground. Others learn their leadership in the classroom. Natural leadership is refined and defined by leadership opportunities.

    Good leaders occur naturally. Great leaders are developed through siezing and creating opportunities. Leadership development opportunities throuhg experience, experiential, reflectiion, reading and classroom learning remain essential.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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