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Leadership 201: Are Great Leaders Only Born?

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What exactly are these special characteristics that only “natural born leaders” possess?

Where did the statement “either you have it, or you don’t,” come from? And what does “it” mean?!

What is a leader’s primary focus?

Is a leader a teammate or the “Boss?”

I’m sure there is an ocean full of perspectives concerning these questions. However, as a proven leader of two unique worlds, (Military and Civilian) I can surely explain what a leader should and SHOULDN’T practice!

A leader isn’t someone who abuses his or her power or authority by instilling fear in teammates to generate job production. Leaders don’t give orders and demands without reciprocating loyalty and dedication to the team. Leaders do not use persuasion to receive favors from team members that are deemed unethical and not in the best interest of the team or organization. Leaders don’t possess an attitude of “as long as they do as I say, I don’t care!” Leaders do not display favoritism within the team. These are just a few of many.

Although this type of “leader” is capable of attaining success and receiving high recognition from their superiors, the TEAM is suffering in the background. This type of “leader” is a failure to the team he/she works with!

Failing the team contributes to the mindset and behaviors that will often stunt professional and personal growth. It can induce stress and frustration.  It may cause a person to question their own self-confidence. It will also provoke unfavorable thought patterns and behaviors that could become influential to the rest of the team.

Some examples are: 

  • Failing to place team members in positions of opportunity and success.
  • Failing to effectively train, coach, and develop towards continuous professional and personal growth.
  • Failing to structure an attainable vision with attainable goals for the individual team members.
  • Failing to effectively communicate with, and listen to, the team.
  • Failing to build cohesion, confidence, and trust.

Failing to “ACT” with compassion (A leader’s level of compassion should extend past simply understanding. Simply confirming your understanding doesn’t help in certain situations. A warm “ACT” of kindness has proven to be most effective).

The goal of a leader should be to give purpose and direction by influencing the team in a positive manner. All while establishing a healthy environment consisting of trust, effective communication, cohesion and high morale. Notice, I didn’t mention motivation. That is because motivation is the result one will find when the above-mentioned is established. Granted, some people are going to be mean and miserable for various reasons. It’s the overall outcome that a leader must strive for!

NOTE: Regardless of your job title (Owner, CEO, executive, manager, supervisor, etc.) if you are placed in a position to influence people to accomplish tasks, jobs, projects, goals or visions, then you are a LEADER!

It’s interesting how the self-proclaimed “natural born leaders” may have a high production rate, while the team is in the background suffering due to professional and personal malnourishment. Malnourishment is a term I use to describe a team that;

  • Despises the leadership.
  • Dreads going to work.
  • Participates in negative gossip.
  • Displays a negative mindset and behavior.
  • Is capable of performing only one aspect of the many functions within an operation.
  • Has personal concerns but work has taken precedence due to fear of losing their job.
  • Feels like outsiders or that they’re not good enough.
  • Fear speaking to their leadership about personal or work-related issues.
  • Has a low mood/energy.

Although these concerns will typically go undetected or ignored, many of these people will continue to go to work and perform under these types of conditions. A negative work environment, such as this, is enough to break down the toughest person. However, a well-rounded leader will have the ability to use compassion and open-mindedness as a tool and care not only about work production but the team as well!  

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Now let’s get into what a leader SHOULD practice:

A leader should learn to use an even balance of yin and yang (negative and positive action/energy) in order to create and sustain a structured, but pleasant and healthy work atmosphere.

This person has the ability to be vocal but silent, structured but compassionate, firm but fair.  They will provide discipline but be flexible, be focused but willing to listen, give direction but remain open to new ideas. They will be passionate while emotionally balanced enough to identify and use facts when making decisions. They will be outspoken but respectful. They will identify the less productive, but instead of tearing them down, he/she will build them up.

For the leader, these methods will create a productive and positive structure or work culture. For the team, it will create positive attitudes and mindset along with enthusiasm, motivation, and trust. However, too much of creating an environment that’s tailored exclusively for self will result in resentment and tentativeness within the team. Too much of catering to the team will result in a leader who has little to zero authority and will find themselves continuously taken advantage of. An even balance of yin and yang is the perfect strategy for building a foundation for self and team.

I often relate the well-being of a team to a car engine. Many people are highly concerned with the speed, smoothness, horsepower, and comfort it can provide. However, less is concerned with the care, attention, and effort it takes to maintain its’ top performance. If the engine fails, a popular reaction would be to find a way to fix the damage or to get rid of it and find a new one (Reactive). However, by performing maintenance and finding ways to upgrade its’ performance; one will eventually have an engine that is not only operating well but producing better than before (Proactive). As a leader, you may want to consider working on being proactive when it comes to your team. They are your engine!

What do organizations need to build well-rounded leaders?

There are a fair amount of leaders who have great characteristics. Characteristics such as having a vision, being a goal setter, having integrity, motivation, compassion, drive, passion…etc. However, many of them fail the test when it comes to becoming a well-rounded leader (well-rounded meaning producing well with both job demands and needs of the team). This is due to the lack of positive and consistent mentorship. Some may say “We provide SOLID mentorship programs!” I would respond with “Perspective is everything.”

As a Master Life Coach, I feel these programs should be aggressive, proactive, consistent and productive. There should be weekly to bi-weekly follow-ups consisting of provocative questions. Questions such as “What types of negativity, resistance or drawbacks are you experiencing from the team?”, “What is your daily routine involving your team and what are the types of support are you getting from your support channel?”, “What are some things that are going well and what are some areas you could use improvement in?”….etc. These type of questions are open-ended. They will force thought and clear feedback vs “OK”, “great”, “awesome”…etc.

Processing this information and providing feedback that consists of proven leadership methods for the mentee to exercise is vital. However, the feedback given should be tailored to the personality of the mentee. If a person is going to be consistent and effective, they must be comfortable with what they are doing or at least comfortable with the idea of growing into a specified behavior.

Conducting a face to face meeting at the mentee’s area of business should be a priority. This will allow the mentor to capture an idea of the health and functionality of the work environment while discussing perspectives and concerns.

This will cause a pleasant and enlightening mind-shift towards what leadership should look like. It will enable structured feedback instead of “it went great” or “the team is awesome.”  It will eliminate any assumptions about a person’s leadership capabilities and cause him or her to think about their current situation from different perspectives. It will expose areas that need work so the development and coaching process can begin!

This type of mentorship is not only beneficial for new leaders, but it’s also a savior to the team members that have to work for them.  For a better understanding, refer back to the car engine analogy. Based on my experience the supervisors of leadership are either too busy with job demands to perform this with consistency, or he/she needs a mentoring themselves! I strongly feel this type of product should come from an entity (internal or external) that specializes in leadership mentoring exclusivity.

Typically, what will happen with many mentorship programs (not all), the mentor will check-in according to a scheduled time period. He or she will ask general questions that are open-ended, urge the mentee to continuously grow, and recommend books to read. Another method that’s used is leaving it to the new leader to call with any questions or concerns.

The main concerns that I’ve identified with these methods are the lack of coaching and developing. To do this effectively there must be an interpersonal relationship between the mentor and mentee with effective communication, understanding, and opportunities to visually process a situation.

Often times, a new leader will not call their assigned mentor due to several reasons:

  • They forgot a mentor was assigned.
  • They don’t fully understand the purpose of a mentor.
  • They feel that everything is under control and no assistance is required.
  •  They feel uncomfortable with the idea of calling a stranger.
  • Stubbornness.
  • Ego.

Many would feel that if a person doesn’t use their resources wisely, or at all, then they are at fault. I’d respond to that by asking the following question; who should be held responsible if a person, who is NOTORIOUS for calculating numbers incorrectly, was sent to the store with a $50 dollar bill to purchase a bottle of soda and a ham sandwich, but brought back the wrong amount of change? Who should be held responsible? Should it be the person who understood the circumstances and made the decision anyway or the person making the purchase?

What if we reconstruct the scenario to read; A new/seasoned leader, who was NOTORIOUS for how low the moral and cohesion was on his/ her team, was directed to meet with a new team of 50 people to work on a construction project with a budget of over 1 million dollars.  After one week, the entire team quit leaving this leader unable to complete the job. Who should be held responsible, the person who understood the circumstances and made the decision anyway or the person in charge of the project?

I’m sure there are different perspectives as to what the answers could or should be. However, what should be taken from this is that, although there may not be any “clear-cut” answers to these questions, proactive measures should be set in place to prevent these incidents from happening. This would be an example for the purpose of effective mentors.

Granted, many will eventually figure out the production side of being a leader, but never gain enough knowledge of what it takes to cultivate a healthy work atmosphere. An atmosphere that has structure, team members that enjoy going to work and that are able to produce, grow and succeed.  Often, too much focus is placed on work production. If the mind, body, and spirit of the team are healthy, the work product will come without much effort.

So back to question “Are leaders born?” From my perspective, this is a question of zero substance. However, in the larger scheme of things, ANYONE who’s provided mentorship that is aggressive, proactive, consistent and productive will certainly develop the ability to meet or surpass anyone’s expectation of a leader.

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