How to Tell If You’re a Natural Leader

Posted by Gary Hamel on May 6, 2009

I’ll bet you know a natural leader. Maybe you are one.

Maybe you’re a mom who started a support group for the parents of children with special needs.

Maybe you’re a concerned citizen who mobilized a group of preservation-minded neighbors to halt the destruction of a venerable old building.

Maybe you’re a churchgoer who convinced some of your fellow parishioners to help mentor at-risk kids.

Or maybe you simply organized your company’s first softball league.

In business, we talk a lot about leadership, and often take pains to differentiate between “leaders” and “managers.” Usually, this dichotomy hinges on the “vision thing.” Leaders imagine a future state and a chart a course to get there—they’re change agents. Managers simply preside over the status quo—they’re administrators.

While this distinction is useful, it doesn’t go far enough. Leaders in traditional organizations usually derive a large share of their power from their positions—that’s the case for CEOs, cabinet officers and high school principals. In other settings, a leader’s power may reflect the freely given support of peers and followers—examples include Mother Teresa, Linux creator Linus Torvalds and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

There is a distinction, then, between a “titled” leader and a “natural” leader. A titled leader relies heavily on positional power to get things done; a natural leader is able to mobilize others without the whip of formal authority. These categories aren’t mutually exclusive. In his role as an Anglican Archbishop, Desmond Tutu was both a titled leader and a natural leader. The distinction, though, is important. To see why, try a little thought experiment.

Think about your role at work. Now assume for a moment that you no longer have any positional authority—you’re not a project leader, a department head or vice president. There’s no title on your business card and you have no direct reports. Assume further that you have no way of penalizing those who refuse to do your bidding—you can’t fire them or cut their pay. Given this, how much could you get done in your organization? How much of a leader would you be if you no longer held even a tiny, tarnished scepter of bureaucratic power?

Here’s another way to unpack this. Ask yourself what percentage of your power and influence at work comes from . . .

(a) Your position-based prerogatives (which might include an ability to make unilateral decisions and commit resources)?
(b) Your ability to impose sanctions (by issuing reprimands, denying promotions, etc.)?
(c) Your preferential access to information, decision-makers and key meetings?

And what percentage rests on:

(d) Your widely acknowledged wisdom or expertise?
(e) Your vision, values and praiseworthy personality traits?
(f) Your unique organizational capabilities (including your ability to coalesce opinions, attract resources, plot strategy and sequence activities)?

In other words, how much of your power comes from what you are (the VP for HR, for example), and how much comes from who you are (a creative problem solver with a great personal network)?

Readers, what do you think makes a “natural” leader? Have you come across many?



there is always a confusion whether a leader is born or made. if we assume
leadership qualities are inherent and cannot be taught we might really suppress
those already at an advantage to the leadership training programs for cultivation. natural leader is one who knows to lead himself prior to leading others

"natural leaders"

Great ideas and a lot of room for thought!
I think that "natural" leaders exist but "titled" leaders are afraid of them, so they 'KILL THEM" as soon as they spot them. A “titled” leader cares about numbers and organisational pocket profits, a “natural” leader cares about people and organisational wealth.
That is why you see more and more "natural" leaders out of the organisations, because out there they flourish !!!


I think that project manager's are naturally thrust in this position as they lack the organisation title of a leader and the line management responsibilities. They are in positions where noone reports to them but they have to deliver the products.

Well written article.

Initiators are Natural Leaders

My way of saying this would be, it's the ones who take the "initiative" are the ones who are natural leaders. This goes side by side with the "vision" they hold. The examples of Mother Teresa, Linus Torvalds and Jimmy Wales just go to prove that. They had a vision and took the initiative; never did they enforce their will on the masses. Because their intention was to either do good/or innovate for the masses. Once their idealogies were accepted by the masses they were appreciated making them leaders in their own right. Not once, they aimed at being the leaders! Thus, making them natural leaders.

TOBI-Think Out of the Box and Initiate.


Leader vs. "Boss"

Very well articulated!
I think all too often people don't lead (& therefore fail to make a difference) because of the belief that they have "no right" to somehow (aka they don't have the title). Which is a shame.
I believe that it is the passion and confidence (not only in self but in the "cause") that makes a great leader. Without that, I don't believe a title makes you anything more than a "boss". Just my humble opinion:)

Leadership is a two-way relationship

I would like to add that to be a leader ir to be able to hear others opinions and needs. Also it´s very important to help your parteners, teach and guide your collaborators. I thinks thats makes a difference.

just an opinion!


Natural Leadership

Subordinates or followers do not care how much you know (as a leader) until they know how much you care.In longer term relationships (which is crucial in sustaining leadership), it is not what you say, it is not what you do (as a leader) but what you are (as a person) that makes the real difference and determines if you have a team of followers or not.

While vision , execution excellence ( prerequisite being competence) are all crucial to attracting followers; at times of adversity (like present circumstances) if one has to chose a leader one will choose a man of CHARACTER.

In the final analysis you need to have a clearly defined value System that you adhere to at all times. Fundamental quality of good leadership.

Premchand Kurup