The 108 Skills of Natural Born Leaders

The 108 Skills of Natural Born Leaders

by Warren Blank

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Some people appear to be "natural born leaders." But are they literally born that way? Or have they been taught, coached, rewarded, and reinforced in ways that enable them to be leaders?

According to The 108 Skills of Natural Born Leaders, no one is born a leader. But everyone has the natural born capacity to lead. We label people "natural born

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Some people appear to be "natural born leaders." But are they literally born that way? Or have they been taught, coached, rewarded, and reinforced in ways that enable them to be leaders?

According to The 108 Skills of Natural Born Leaders, no one is born a leader. But everyone has the natural born capacity to lead. We label people "natural born leaders" because they consistently and frequently model qualities that inspire others to commit to their direction.

This book identifies the skill set that causes others to see people as natural born leaders, helps readers assess their current level of these skills, and coaches readers to master their weak areas. Readers will learn:

• Foundation skills, including self-awareness and the ability to establish rapport

• Direction skills, including the ability to set a course and develop others as leaders

• Willing follower skills, including the ability to influence others and create a motivating environment.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Business consultant Blank (The 9 Natural Laws of Leadership) doesn't believe in natural born leaders; rather, everyone can learn leadership skills, he says. After helping readers assess their abilities, he briefs them on 108 crucial skills. Some are clever and helpful, like "Work like Walton: Talk to Everybody." But many simply repeat jargon (e.g., "Reframe to Motivate"). Possibly useful to new managers, this book will disappoint old hands. (May) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Shows how to master a specific set of skills people commonly associate with so-called "natural born" leaders. Identifies 108 traits that cause others to see people as leaders, and explains how to acquire these qualities. Includes a self-assessment inventory, and examples ranging from Franklin Roosevelt to G.E.'s Jack Welch. Blank is a consultant and trainer on leadership to many Fortune 500 companies and US government agencies. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

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The 108 Skills of Natural Born Leaders

By Warren Blank


Copyright © 2001 Warren Blank
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8144-2600-5


The Natural Born Leader Phenomenon

She's just a natural born leader.

He was born to lead.

Some people are always leaders; they were just born that way.

Have you heard people make such comments? Have you made such statements yourself?

A select group of people seem to have that "certain something" that elevates them above the pack and enables them to be what we call "natural born leaders." Such unique individuals emerge in every situation in which they find themselves. Many distinguish themselves at an early age. Perhaps you have noticed a child at the playground who "naturally" organizes the lunch break games or rallies the neighborhood kids for a summertime project. Such children have no formal leadership training, but they step up to lead the other kids. You may have witnessed a teen, a young adult, or a person just starting a professional career who "innately" knew what to do and stepped up when no one else seemed willing or able to lead. And you probably have observed people in your career at all organizational levels who have "naturally" moved a group, division, or company forward despite the challenge or difficulty.

Natural born leaders are said to exist in all fields. Consider some individuals perceived as born to lead in industry: Jack Welch of General Electric Company (GE), Andy Grove of Intel Corp., John Chambers of Cisco Systems, Sam Walton of WalMart, Mary Kay Ash of Mary Kay Inc., Warren E. Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway, Akio Morita of Sony Corporation, and the father of mass production, Henry Ford. Think of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, or Margaret Thatcher, all appraised as natural born leaders in the political arena. The natural born leader label also goes to military men such as H. Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell of Desert Storm and George Patton and British field marshal Bernard Law Montgomery during World War II.

The natural born leader notion is hard to discount. When people demonstrate dramatic initiative, when they easily figure out what needs to be done, and when they effectively influence others, we assume they are "born to lead."

At some level, we want to believe in natural born leaders. The notion fulfills our romantic need for heroes. We desire larger-than-life characters to inspire us. We want to know there are some people who can bear any burden, overcome any obstacle, win any fight, and succeed in any situation. The idea that such people exist offers a sense of security, provides a degree of hope, and sets a model for us to honor and strive for. In our quiet, inward moments, we all know our limitations. We take comfort in the notion that somewhere out there, natural born leaders exist who can guide us beyond our limitations.

The Natural Born Leader: Fact or Fantasy?

The dictionary defines the word natural as "found in nature; without man-made changes; real, not artificial or manufactured; innate, not acquired." To be a "natural" means you were born that way. It is in the genes, programmed by your DNA. We readily observe the results of the genetic program in a "natural" redhead, in someone who is "naturally" slender, or in those whose skin is "naturally" sensitive to sunlight.

Does this same genetic predisposition apply to a leader? Are some people "naturally" born to lead?

I argue no. No one is born a leader. No one is genetically programmed or innately structured as a leader. In my book The Nine Natural Laws of Leadership, I explain that a leader is a person who gains willing followers. Individuals in any situation and at any time throughout history were leaders because they attracted willing followers. No other description or definition clearly defines the essence of a leader. Leaders gain followers when they provide a direction and utilize influence methods that attract others to willingly support them and their direction. Leading, or the process of directing and influencing others to willingly follow, is based on a set of skills.

I propose that some people are labeled natural born leaders because they effortlessly, spontaneously, consistently, and frequently demonstrate the specific skills that cause others to willingly follow.

Leading is not an innate function of the leader alone or independent of the followers. To be a leader is contingent on the follower's assessment of the leader, the follower's interpretation of the leader's direction, and the interaction between the leader and follower. Followers are the leader's allies whose support, in effect, "makes" the leader. If no one follows, there is no leader.

Consider the space shuttle Challenger disaster. Engineers at lower levels of NASA felt the O-rings, a specific type of seal on the craft, could fail and render the shuttle unsafe. They tried to convince NASA senior management that the launch should be postponed. Senior management did not agree. Tragically, the engineers proved to be correct. Think of what happened here very carefully. These engineers had the right idea and were pointing in the right direction. Yet they did not have the authority to make the final decision. And they could not gain the support (that is, influence) senior management to delay the launch. Without followers, a person with an idea, plan, strategy, or vision, even if it is correct, is simply someone trying to provide a direction. Leadership occurs when others willingly follow that direction.

The natural born leader label is an attribution made to those who master the skill set related to gaining willing followers. No one is born with these skills. The natural born leader label actually describes exceptional or master leaders, those who effortlessly, spontaneously, consistently, and frequently demonstrate the skill set.

Some people are, of course, born with abilities that enable them to master leadership skills more effectively. In Living with Our Genes, Dean Hamer and Peter Copeland explain how behavioral aptitudes, personality preferences, and individual temperaments are programmed into our genes. Such genetic capacities affect our aptitudes. Consider the child who brilliantly plays the piano without any training. Picture the athlete who rarely practices yet glides across the playing field with total grace. Think of those who almost automatically have a knack for the language, concepts, and practices of engineering, medicine, the law, or some other complex discipline. Such individuals have an innate ability that allows them to perform and excel naturally in their field.

Yet, unlike innate physical features, such as blue eyes or large hands, an innate behavioral aptitude, temperament, or preference does not guarantee the behavior will be actualized. People need opportunity, encouragement, and training. The goddess Athena was birthed from Zeus's head as a full-grown woman warrior. Humans are not born fully formed as a pianist, athlete, engineer, or leader. Some may have an inherited ability to more easily learn a second language. For example, some people may have the capacity to learn more than one language. Only those given a chance can become bilingual. Skill learning and skill development are necessary. Like a musical instrument, genes do not determine what music is played. Genes simply define the range of what can possibly be played.

True greatness, or skill mastery, requires skill practice. The superlative golfer, Tiger Woods, obviously has innate talent for the sport. However, his dad put a golf club in his hands at the age of three. Woods works tirelessly to hone his golfing skills. Imagine where Tiger Woods might be today if his father did not encourage him to play golf or had actually forbidden him to ever play any sports.

You Can't Do Anything about Your Genes

Some people seem to be born with a "leg up" in this world. They passed through the gene pool dispensary and got the prized DNA associated with greater likelihood of performance effectiveness. Yet your inborn capacities do not make a difference anymore. Because you are reading this book at this moment in time, you have already been through the gene dispensary. Your innate ability was programmed a long time ago. Whatever you naturally got at birth has already placed you somewhere on the innate-capacities continuum. The readymade, from-the-factory set of preferences programmed into your individual DNA master source code cannot be changed.

You got what you got. Until science develops a do-it-yourself, home-use, gene-splicing kit, the innate, natural characteristics and temperament you have cannot be altered.

What you were born with only outlines the possibility, the potential to perform. And while it may set boundaries, you also have the natural ability to respond to opportunities that nurture your potential so you can achieve greater results. You may not become anything you want to be, but it is possible to be all that you are.

Everyone Has a Natural Born Capacity to Lead

To put it very plainly, then, no one is born a leader. However, everyone has a natural born capacity to lead because it is natural for people to respond to nurture. People have an innate ability to learn and grow. Anyone can be a leader because anyone can attract others to willingly follow. All people can enhance their ability by learning the skills of the best and most exceptional leaders. As your skill level grows, evolves, and blossoms, you can gain more followers more effortlessly, spontaneously, consistently, and frequently. More and more people will attribute natural born leader status to you.

You were born as someone. Becoming a leader is a choice. What you know can always change. What you are, based on predetermined innate limits, may not. You can develop as a leader by acquiring knowledge of the skills and an understanding of your capabilities, and by making the choice to change. You can mold your abilities by skill learning, practice, and feedback. You can make a conscious and intentional choice to upgrade yourself so you more closely resemble the portrait we attribute to natural born leaders and you become a more effective leader.

The Portrait of a Natural Born Leader

One hundred and eight skills paint the portrait of a natural born leader. The skills are not flavors of the month. They are the facts of the leader's life. They describe the actionable propositions that define the leader process. No single person completely mirrors every brushstroke in the picture. People match the portrait in varying degrees and demonstrate some skills more effectively than others.

Look at a few of the corporate chieftains in Fortune magazine's "America's Most Admired Companies" list. "Combative" describes General Electric's CEO Jack Welch. "Prankster and unabashedly affectionate" pertains to Southwest Airlines head Herb Kelleher. "Scathing" describes Microsoft boss Bill Gates. Each of these company captains has totally committed followers who ardently support them. Yet each demonstrates different skill mastery and in different ways.

Some fit the natural born leader profile based on mastery of skills important in specific circumstances and with certain followers. For example, when rapport matters, those who can build trust more easily achieve exceptional leader status. If change, chaos, and uncertainty characterize the competitive environment, those who take decisive action more effortlessly emerge as exemplary leaders. When a motivating environment creates greater success, those who skillfully foster more open communication and participative decision making are perceived to be natural born leaders.

Everybody already has developed skills in some areas because everyone has gained willing followers in some situations. To expand your abilities and your effectiveness as a leader you must know the 108 skills. To operate in a wider circle of influence you must assess current skill competence. To attain the natural born leader label even more fully you must constantly practice towards mastery.

The 108 skills of natural born leaders are grouped into three categories. Each category is made up of three sets of skills.

Foundational Skills

The foundational skills are prerequisites for all other skills. Mastery of the foundational skills provides the necessary firm footing to have more impact, be more effective, and achieve greater leader success. Vince Lombardi once said that success comes from those who are "brilliant at the basics." For master leaders, the basics are self-awareness, a capacity to build rapport, and an ability to clarify expectations.

Leadership Direction Skills

Leaders provide direction through uncertainty. Leaders lead when people do not know what to do. People do not need to be led when they can detect obstacles and they know how to overcome them. Leaders must emerge when problems blindside people and when people cannot resolve the problems they face. People do not need to be led when they recognize an opportunity and are able to exploit it. Leaders step up in response to opportunities others miss and when people do not know how to take advantage of possibilities.

People need direction when the organizational structure cannot or does not provide it. No organization can create a perfect bureaucracy. Established organizational systems may not offer useful guidance in the face of dramatic change. Existing policies and procedures may create rather than resolve difficulties. Unforeseen obstacles and opportunities always arise no matter how good "the corporate plan" or how well thought out the "management schedule."

Exceptional leaders "map the territory" to identify the need to lead. They chart a course of action to meet the need. No single leader can identify all the needs and chart every course of action. Those who lead, especially on a broad, global scale, and those who direct large groups and organizations must multiply themselves. They develop others as leaders.

Leadership Influence Skills

Expert leaders have to influence people to willingly follow. Willingness is the operative word. Recall the scene in Steven Spielberg's film Saving Private Ryan. Captain Miller, played by Tom Hanks, is assigned a group of men to find Private Ryan and bring him home. As they search for Ryan, the platoon encounters an enemy machine gun nest. They successfully take it out, but one of their men is killed. The GIs want to murder a captured German soldier out of revenge. Captain Miller directs his men to let the captured German go. One disgruntled soldier, Private Reiben, rebels in frustration over Miller's decision. Reiben declares, "I'm through with this mission," and begins to walk away. The platoon sergeant confronts Reiben, and threatens to shoot him if he doesn't "get in line." All the soldiers start shouting as the tension mounts to a breaking point as no solution seems apparent. Captain Miller finally speaks. "What's the pool up to on me?" he asks. Silence engulfs the group. The soldiers had created a betting pool regarding Miller's profession before joining the Army. Miller tells the men that he is a schoolteacher. He explains how that fact did not seem important in the battle zone. He goes on to clarify his feelings about being a soldier, about fighting for his own life and his desire to protect his men. Miller then tells Reiben he can leave. Miller clarifies that he will fulfill his mission to find Private Ryan so that he can get home to his wife. Miller walks off, alone, to bury the men killed during the battle. Without a word, the entire platoon, including Reiben, joins him.

Miller could have ordered Reiben to "fall in line" and "do what I say because I am in charge." He could have told the sergeant to execute the soldier for desertion. Miller focused on gaining willing support.

Exceptional leaders gain commitment rather than rely on command and compliance. They create a desire in followers rather than demand that subordinates fulfill requirements. They inspire rather than require. Those who offer a direction, at whatever level, become leaders when others willingly follow.

Nirmala Palsamy is a practicing nurse who heads the Village Health Nurse Association in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Her story, reported by Meenakshi Ganguly in Time magazine, illustrates how until others follow, no leadership occurs. Palsamy, and nurses like her, offer contraceptive information and suggestions as they scoot around on mopeds to visit their patients. Concerns about population growth caused the Indian government to pass mandates regarding enforced sterilization. Nurses were offered financial incentives to encourage the policy. For years, Palsamy was opposed to birth quotas in her state. She got little support and was even told by her superiors that she would be "suspended" if she openly challenged the policy. Finally, in 1992, her message got through to the new head of the Tamil Nadu family-welfare program, S. Ramasundaram. Palsamy convinced Ramasundaram that birth-control targets caused distrust in mothers toward nurses, which resulted in resistance to state policy. Population growth dramatically decreased in the area after Ramasundaram followed Palsamy's advice of no government interference.


Excerpted from The 108 Skills of Natural Born Leaders by Warren Blank. Copyright © 2001 Warren Blank. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

Jon Flora
Jon Flora, President, The Kroger Company of Michigan
An outstanding tool to develop action plans and follow-up processes that strengthen individual skills and improve business success. This book provides an ideal method to enhance the skills of an entire executive team.
Graham B. Painter
Graham B. Painter, Vice President of Public Affairs, Delivery Group, Reliant Energy
Warren Blank has compressed a whole career of observing and applying successful leadership skills into a very readable manual. The person who aspires to leadership and success will not find a clearer, more accessible guide than this book.
John G. Rice
John G. Rice, President & CEO, GE Power Systems
Warren Blank has presented practical suggestions for developing personal leadership characteristics essential at every organizational level and stage of life.
Nick Kanopoulos
Dr. Nick Kanopoulos, Director of Multimedia & Communications, Atmel Corporation
Excellent work that combines systematic and thought-provoking treatment of the nature of leadership.
Dorothy Marcic
Warren Blank has captured the essence of good leadership in a book that reads so well. Buy it for yourself?and your boss.
—(Dorothy Marcic, Author of Managing with the Wisdom of Love: Uncovering Virtue in People and Organizations)

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