If you think you just don't have the personality to make it as a CEO, then there's an interview you have to read.

Recently the CEO of music streaming service Spotify, Daniel Ek, sat down for an in-depth chat with former Fast Company editor Robert Safian for his old publication. The wide-ranging discussion covers a huge amount of ground, from the future of Spotify to the company's music-industry naysayers, but it also contains object lesson for any would-be business leader who thinks they just don't have the natural charisma to rise to the top.

Not really great at anything? Don't let that stop you.

In the article, the usually press-shy Ek displays the characteristic modesty of his native Sweden, describing himself as "relatively decent at most things, like a jack of all trades, but not really great at anything." That's despite him sitting atop a company with a market cap of more than $30 billion.

But perhaps most interesting for the less-than-naturally-magnetic is Ek's admission that he came to the CEO role with basically zero charisma.

"I'm still not a very good presenter. A lot of leaders are way more charismatic than I am. I'm an introvert," he says, before opening up about his "battle with himself" to learn how to lead as Spotify grew. Being more inspirational and charismatic, Ek admits, took a ton of work:

"If I'm having a sh***y day, there may be someone who's worked in this company for three years and this is the only time they get to spend an hour or even 15 minutes with me. What impression do I leave? For someone who's not a natural leader, that's super tough. But that's what I'm working on, mental things, listening to [meditation app] Headspace, getting in the right mood.

I had to change things about myself that I wasn't really comfortable changing. I did a lot of soul searching. I got a lot of feedback on what I wasn't good enough at."

Not only did Ek work hard to learn to regulate his moods and rejig his management philosophy, but he also totally revamped his communication style.

"I realized that I didn't have to change who I was in order to do well. But I needed to more clearly and succinctly explain myself," he explains. "I tell people when I'm uncertain about something or where I think I screwed up. Those are things that the old me wouldn't have done necessarily."

Calling himself a private person, Ek acknowledges that he struggled to be transparent about his vulnerabilities and failures (a key leadership skill, according to a ton of experts). "Yet I'm sitting here talking about transparency," he notes. "Why is that? Well, it's what I believe in. But I still struggle."

CEO's aren't born. They're made.

The fascinating discussion is well worth a read in full, but this particular section both offers encouragement for less naturally gifted leaders that charisma is a skill you can learn, and also aligns neatly with lots of other startup veterans who insist that great leaders are almost always made, not born.

"It generally takes years for a founder to develop the CEO skill set," top VC Ben Horowitz has argued, for example. "If you are a founder CEO and you feel awkward or incompetent when doing some of these things and believe there is no way that you'll be able to do it when your company is 100 or 1,000 people, welcome to the club. That's exactly how I felt. So did every CEO that I've ever met. This is the process. This is how you get made."

So remember that the next time you're wondering if you have what it takes to be a great leader. The short answer is that, nope, you probably don't. But neither does pretty much anyone else at the beginning. Leadership is learned, not gifted to some lucky few by the universe. If you're willing to put in the effort, you probably have a lot more charisma in you than you ever imagined.

Published on: Aug 23, 2018