6 signs of a natural leader
This post by Andy Trainer was originally published July 26, 2012, on SmartBrief’s Leadership blog and is one of our most popular posts ever.
SmartBrief on Leadership is a free daily newsletter helping leaders be better and smarter at work. See our latest issue and sign up.
Leadership is a skill that can be taught, but it also manifests itself in some people naturally. Recognizing this as a trait in yourself or others can sometimes be tricky — and it can cause misunderstandings about the natural leader’s character or intentions.
A busy manager who has to deal with all kinds of personalities within a team can overlook signs of leadership and instead see someone being difficult — perhaps asking too many questions, questioning their direction or stepping on their toes when it comes to guiding other members of the team.
While these behaviors can be initially challenging, they are all signs that the individual has the potential to be a great leader. It’s up to the manager to notice these signs, identify the leader and guide them in the right direction. Recognizing the personality traits is the first step so here are six signs of a natural leader.
- Questioning. A natural leader will not hold back with questions when they have doubts about what they are asked to do. This may be challenging, and dealing with the disruption may distract from understanding the reasons behind it.
- Forward thinking. With the questioning comes the suggestions. The natural leader will instinctively problem-solve, even when others don’t see a problem that needs solving. They will suggest new methods of approaching challenges and ways of improving processes.
- Helping others. A natural leader may have a tendency to correct others on their mistakes and to try to motivate those who are lagging, even when not asked for help.
- Being asked for help. The natural leader doesn’t have to be an expert in what they are doing for others on the team to go to them for guidance and advice. If you see a member of your team being repeatedly asked for support, consider the reasons that this person is being singled out.
- Being noticed. The natural leader will stand out from the crowd, and it’s likely that they will be noticed by other people within your organization, e.g. other managers and directors. Making an effort to notice what is noticed by others can give you a heads-up about this person’s nature.
- Personal life. Another sign of a natural leader is what information they volunteer about their personal life. Does it seem that it’s always them who organizes their friends to get together? Are they the one who initiates after-work team drinks on a Friday? What people are like in their personal life is a big clue to their true nature — they may be trying to quash some of their personality traits at work.
What to do next
Once you’ve identified the early signs of a leader beginning to emerge within a team, it’s up to you to nurture this. With the right guidance and boundaries, their natural characteristics will make them a great asset to you and the team. Quashing their instincts (i.e. not answering their questions or considering their suggestions) will not be productive.
Yes, it may be a challenge, and you will need conviction to back up your own leadership. But earning their trust and respect will be invaluable — they hold a lot of influence, even if they don’t know it.
Andy Trainer works for Silicon Beach Training, a leading provider of management-training courses and resources, as well as training in leadership, project management, SEO and more. You can connect with Trainer on Twitter.