Leadership is both a gift from birth and a learned skill.
For anyone who has led large teams in business, you know there are certain methods and best practices that are important. Over-communicating with employees, clearly setting expectations, leading by example--you can learn these things at any leadership seminar.
Yet, for anyone in leadership, you also know there's a gift and a penchant you're born with related to leadership that is much harder to learn. You might know there is vigorous debate over the "leadership gene"--that some behaviors such as being an introvert or an extrovert or an ability to assume risk can dictate whether someone is an effective leader.
I happen to believe the leadership gene does exist, mostly because I've seen it in myself and in others. Being an introvert is a recipe for disaster in leadership, for example, because the knee-jerk reaction is to avoid people and not try to make frequent contact with them.
Of course, this means you just have to work harder at leadership and can still be incredibly successful. But it does help to know if you already have a head start. To help, I've developed a few simple questions to ask to see if leadership comes naturally to you or if you will need to find workarounds and develop new strategies to lead others in business.
1. Would you rather succeed or see others succeed?
At the core of the leadership gene is whether you tend to be most interested in your success or the success of others. This is counterintuitive. Sometimes, leaders who think they are naturally gifted are louder and bossier than anyone else. The opposite is true. Natural leaders have an innate ability to prefer when someone else succeeds and are content to sit in the background. The best leaders create a platform for success and enjoy building that platform. They stay out of the limelight.
Leadership gene: You want others to succeed.
2. Are you afraid of risk?
Risk is definitely part of leadership, because when the team fails then you will likely be the one everyone blames. (As I explained, it's also true that the best leaders don't claim success when things go according to plan.) Being able to embrace risk is an important aspect of leadership and is something that's often built into your DNA. If you are afraid of risk, you may not have the leadership gene but you can learn how to make decisions and lead others even when you know you might have to accept criticism.
Leadership gene: You embrace risk.
3. Do you like being right?
We all know leaders in business who always have to be right. They pride themselves on being the smartest person in the room. However, a code attribute of the best leaders is the ability to set aside your rights. It's an ability to let others be the ones who have the answer, and then to fan that flame and let them run with an idea. That is the default mode for leaders who have a natural inclination--it's a penchant for letting someone else win.
Leadership gene: You let others be right.
4. Do you genuinely like people?
Anyone can have good people skills. The difference between those with the leadership gene and those without it has more to do with an interest in people. Those with an innate leadership gift are drawn to people--they want to learn more about them, motivate them, encourage them, and get to know them. Those gifted naturally in leadership don't just want to be the dictator and command others. They want to connect.
Leadership gene: You are drawn to people.
5. Do you love process more than strategy?
I've always viewed the middle-management role as more about the process. You become a process enforcer, making sure things are done the right way. Yet, as your leadership changes and you become responsible for more tasks and activities (and more people), it shifts into strategy instead. Process is easy; strategy is hard. The most gifted leaders are strategic and make wise decisions. In terms of innate ability, they tend to know what will work best for the team. They love playing chess.
Leadership gene: You love strategy.
6. You can shift your perspective
Perhaps more than any other innate leadership trait, the ability to see the perspectives of others and show them empathy is often required for the best leadership. Sure, it can be learned (I'm proof of that, having learned about empathy later in life). Leaders who are already gifted at seeing alternative perspectives rather than their own have a leg up and will find that leadership is more fluid and easier. And everyone else will notice.
Leadership gene: True leaders can shift perspectives.