Part One of an excellent article by Dan Reiland

Is all leadership innate and natural? Is leadership limited to a spiritual gift? Or is it possible that leadership can be learned? This is a controversial subject, but I am of the strong opinion that you can learn leadership. I have watched far too many people who don’t fit the typical leadership image emerge from the fray and assume substantial responsibility and carry it well. Not as a manager, but as a leader – someone who has true influence and leverages it toward a clear and compelling preferred future.

So what about this person who emerges? Was there latent ability and capacity not yet tapped? Or were skills learned that enabled this person to literally function at a different level – a leadership level? Can someone actually begin to see life from a different perspective, the perspective of a leader? Or is this reserved for the few, the chosen and the elite – those born with something special? Again, I believe you can learn leadership.

I acknowledge that different levels of natural ability in things such as I.Q., discipline, charisma, drive and personal energy play a major role. Some leaders are greater than others. This is clear. But that’s not the question. The topic of this two part series is whether or not you are a learned or natural leader, and how to make the most of the profile that seems to fit you best. In part one, we’ll deal with the learned leader.

Learned leaders have followers. This is the most basic characteristic that separates leaders (learned or natural) from non-leaders. The requirement here is that people follow you because they want to, not because of your title. You probably have a title, that’s fine, but (hopefully) that’s not why people follow you.

At this most basic level the issue is not how many followers you have. It doesn’t matter if you have five or fifteen or fifty or five hundred followers. The essential element is that people respond to your personal influence and follow your lead voluntarily. Non-leaders don’t have followers. They may have helpers for a task, but that’s not the same. Someone helping solely because of the task at hand, without engagement or response to you personally is not about leadership. That is project oriented management. Again, personal influence is essential.

Learned leaders must think leadership before doing leadership. Because leadership doesn’t come instinctively for a learned leader, you must intentionally think leadership to remain engaged and effective as a leader. It’s kind of like a golfer with a “natural swing” versus someone who needed to take lots of lessons to get his or her basic swing down. There is quite the list of components to a good swing, truly a lot to remember. At first trying to get all the parts of a golf swing to work together feels very awkward. But once you get it, and if you keep practicing, over the course of time your swing can become “natural.”

Learned leaders are not inwardly compelled to lead. This point will bring quick clarity to many of you. Here’s how it works. If you are a learned leader and you walk into a room where there is a leader who is engaged, in charge, and things are working well, you will feel no real need or compulsion to take over. You will help if needed. You will probably quickly see how you can be helpful, but you have no inner need or drive to take over. (In part two, you will see this is very different for the natural leader.)

If, however, you walk into a room where there is no leadership, (there may be a leader, but there is no leadership) and the environment is unproductive, unorganized, and the general “spirit” of the place is poor, you will rise up and do something about it. Depending on your personality, skill level, and the occasion, you may do something yourself, (take over) or you may leverage your influence to get the right people doing the right things. But you will do something to get things headed in the right direction.

Learned leaders are industrious and take initiative. If you are a learned leader you are likely to be a highly productive person, and you naturally migrate toward other productive people. In fact, you can be short on patience with people who even remotely appear “flaky” to you. You thrive on seeing things of value accomplished and you are quick to take initiative to get things started. Seeing things stall out drives you nuts. Your work ethic is strong and you enjoy a full schedule.

Learned leaders seek results more than influence. This is subtle and can morph over time as you gain more experience as a leader. In the earlier stages you were probably more interested in getting the job done rather than developing your influence with people. It’s faster and more direct. And you like accomplishing things. This is natural for a learned leader. Natural leaders want to get things done too, in fact, they are driven about results, but they are more interested in increasing their influence with people and getting things done through people than merely accomplishing the task at hand. This is one of the key competencies for a learned leader to grow toward.

Passion and discipline. Passion and discipline are not exclusive to the learned leader but are always in the strength mix among leaders in this profile. They are driven, full of life, and purposeful. Personal discipline is often the strength that enables a learned leader to keep up with natural leaders and, on occasion, surpass them. I don’t mean for this to sound like a competition, but merely to demonstrate the huge potential growth opportunity for learned leaders.

Getting the job done. Learned leaders are generally fantastic at getting things done. The slight orientation toward projects and measurable goals is typically the origin of this trait. As the learned leader continues to develop, and his or her people side begins to flourish, the combination of projects and people becomes powerful, and even more productive.

Can mentor and teach leadership well. The learned leader is a great leadership coach for one simple reason. He or she had to learn leadership themselves. This enables them to be good mentors and teachers of leadership to both learned and natural leaders.

Confidence. Because, at least in the early stages, leadership is not an instinctive behavior confidence is often a struggle for the learned leader. If you are a learned leader you may be unsure of yourself and will therefore second guess your thoughts and direction in general. With experience, confidence can build over time and will enable you to lead with greater inner conviction as well as gain greater ability to inspire others.

Decisiveness. Difficulty in making tough decisions is largely an outcome of a lack in confidence. This is not about intelligence. Learned leaders are typically very smart. It’s more about a lack of certainty about what you want and your relative lack of certainty of knowing the right thing to do. Others opinions matter too much. Decisiveness, like confidence comes with practice and experience. Jump in, think it through, make a decision and take action. Do this over and over and you will begin to notice huge improvement.

Casting a compelling vision. The challenge is not about knowing and understanding the vision. The challenge for the learned leader is selling the vision. Because learned leaders are still gaining confidence in themselves they don’t yet have the leadership persona needed to win others to the vision. If that is also coupled with underdeveloped people skills, getting people to follow your vision is difficult.

Let me encourage you. All this is doable, just not overnight. Focus on your own confidence first. Win self-leadership before leading others. Know what you want, why you want it, and at least partially how you will get there. Then lead. You don’t have to have all the details, but you must believe in yourself and what you want to accomplish before others will follow.

Key Concept. If you are a learned leader you will always be digging, learning and growing. This is essential to your leadership success. Coasting is not an option. It is natural and a good thing for you as a learned leader to feel just a little over your head. Most leaders are! Call it humility or call it wisdom, call it what you will but as a learned leader you will thrive if you stay focused and diligent as a great student of leadership.

Consistent leadership exposure. Learned leaders must have continual input of leadership development. From good leadership books to good leadership conferences this is a must. Exposure to good leaders is essential. Serving in an environment that is proactive about leadership development goes a long way toward your success.

Take the reigns of leadership. Simply put. Lead. Don’t hold back. Ask forgiveness, not permission. It’s good to make mistakes, lots of them and even big ones. Just don’t make the same mistake twice. That indicates you are not paying attention and not learning. Write your plan, pick up the phone, call a meeting… do what it takes to get things moving!

Trust your intuition. Your instincts, though not of a natural leader, are better than you think. They are probably not as fast as you would like them to be, nor are you as confident as you would like, but you must learn to read and trust your gut. Don’t worry so much about what others think. Know what you think and go for it.

Increase personal influence over personal productivity. At first this will seem counterintuitive to a learned leader who wants to be effective. But over the long haul this will begin to make sense. No one ever leads a project, they lead people. If you gain personal leadership influence, people will follow and get the work done. Your work becomes about recruiting, inspiring, training, coaching and encouraging. The people are more talented than you may think. Trust yourself and trust them. You’ll be amazed at what can be accomplished.

In part two we will use the same format to present a profile for the natural leader. It will be in the comparison and contrast of these two articles together that the best and most helpful insights will come to the surface.

“This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland’s free monthly e-newsletter, “The Pastor’s Coach,” available at”