APU Business Original

Effective Leaders: Innate Traits and Learned Behaviors

By Dr. Larry D. Parker, Jr.
Department Chair, Transportation and Logistics Management, Supply Chain Management, Reverse Logistics Management, and Government Contracting and Acquisition

What behaviors are innate? Most individuals believe that the only innate behaviors in humans are reflexes.

But some effective leaders have a natural, innate talent for leadership and exhibit certain traits. According to an Inc. article, “20 Traits Born Leaders Always Have,” some of these 20 leadership traits include:

  • Having a thick skin – These leaders do not get offended and don’t let other peoples’ opinions affect their drive and focus.
  • Being confident – These leaders are confident in what they do and what they tackle. They have a well-developed ability to convert people into followers.
  • Being decisive – These leaders possess the ability to evaluate information or problems quickly so that a sound decision can be made.
  • Having an open mind – These leaders understand that their organization is more than just one person and that other people may have more insight or better answers. For instance, Fred Smith did not deliver all of FedEx’s packages, Steve Jobs did not build all of Apple’s computers or iPhones, and Henry Ford didn’t build every component of his cars.
  • Being direct – These leaders possess the courage to have hard conversations and say what needs to be said to individuals or groups.
  • Having drive – These leaders often develop drive at an early age from competing in sports, music or academics. Regardless of what produced the drive, all leaders have it. 
  • Being energizedZappos CEO Tony Hsieh often describes himself as lazy, but his ability to get energized and work hard toward goals is the reason we know his name.
  • Inspiring loyalty – Good leaders possess the power to get people to trust in them and make people feel that they are worth their time, money, or energy.
  • Being inclusive – Leaders focus on what it is good for the community and make every individual feel a part of that community.

Natural-Born Leaders

According to a Forbes article titled “6 Qualities of Every Natural Born Leader,” there are six qualities that every natural-born leader has:

  1. Leaders Lead – They don’t wait for someone to take charge; they assume the role of leader in their everyday lives.
  2. Leaders Move Their Bodies – Many leaders push their bodies to an extreme level of fitness by doing countless hours on a bicycle, following a morning swimming routine or spending hours on the tennis courts. Leaders move their bodies and have the drive to compete, while enjoying the endorphins that come from these activities.
  3. Leaders Make and Live by Lists – Often waking many hours before the rest of the world, leaders have a list of tasks they want to accomplish each day. That day often begins with either exercise or some form of mental stimulations.
  4. Leaders Listen – Effective leaders don’t just wake up one day and start bossing people around. Leaders have perfected the ability to listen. They listen to not only what people say but also to what people do not say. These leaders are often responsible for making final decisions; however, they pay attention to what other people in their organization or peer group think or feel when making decisions. 
  5. Leaders Evolve – Leaders understand the importance of change and have learned from not only their mistakes, but the mistakes of others. They collect and reflect on information they have collected when they are looking for a way to improve.
  6. Leaders Enjoy Life – Most people think that leaders spend all of their time working. Although a lot of a leader’s time is spent working and learning, they understand the importance of rest, downtime, and doing enjoyable things to enhance their lives. In addition, successful leaders understand they are incapable of doing everything. They learn how to delegate and focus on the important things that require their attention, which allows them to take time away from being so close to their work and enables them to see the bigger picture.

Learning from Other Effective Leaders

Laura Vanderkam, author of “What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Mornings–and Life” and “I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time,” spends most of her time balancing the role of mother and researcher. Her research focuses on productivity and time management.

While doing research for the book “I Know How She Does It,” Vanderkam interviewed professional women who made over $100,000 per year and asked them to track how they spent their week (168 hours). These case studies were used to describe how some of these women were capable of having children, raising families, advancing in their careers and finding time to enjoy non-work activities. Based on information found in Vanderkam’s books and many similar books, it is safe to assume that the success of these individuals can be replicated in one’s own life.

But while you could analyze the step-by-step processes taken by someone in the past and try to produce identical results, you are unlikely to achieve those exact same results (such as heading up a Fortune 500 company). Over time, technology changes and society changes.

But if you only desire to achieve a certain outcome in your life, then that can be replicated. You may not be the next Chris Gardner or Mark Zuckerberg, but you can learn to be an effective leader who navigates your organization toward its unique level of greatness.

Related link: Creating Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the US Workforce

Synergy and Leadership

The late Stephen Covey introduced the business world to the term “synergy.” Synergy was a buzzword that developed around 1989 and continued into the early ‘90s. It has been used and abused countless times in office posters, along with words like courage, teamwork, persistence, and inspiration.

This adaptation of synergy was due to Stephen Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and the management practices that evolved from other books worthy of merit that have been based on years of research. Synergy and Covey has also inspired management consulting training courses.

Regardless of synergy being an outdated term coined from a book that sold more than 20 million copies and has been published in 38 languages, synergy speaks to both how to be an effective leader and how leaders resolve conflict within teams and/or organizations.

Behaviors of Effective Leaders

Paul Hersey, a professor of leadership studies at Nova Southeastern University and Robert Hoyk, a clinical psychologist, authored a book called “The Ethical Executive: Becoming Aware of the Root Causes of Unethical Behavior; 45 Psychological Traps that Every One of Us Falls Prey To.” Their book covers the root causes of unethical psychological behavior that leads executives to make poor, illegal and immoral decisions. The book also outlines the root cause of behaviors as coming from a belief which drives the actions of individuals and in this case, leaders, to make the decisions they do or do not make. 

Steven Covey believed in teaching children to be leaders, which would produce a shift and change in the world. His focus was on not being a critic, but in being a teacher.

This desire led to Covey’s ability to speak with presidents and heads of states around the world. His belief was that regardless of someone’s identity, he had something to teach them that would change their behavior and make them more effective leaders.

Related link: The Legacy of Colin Powell: 13 Important Leadership Rules

What Makes Effective Leaders?

We are all faced with moments when a situation does not turn out the way we anticipated or wanted it to occur. At times, we are confronted with people who behave in a manner that we feel is unfair, disrespectful or disappointing.

The feelings connected to the behaviors of others have a positive or negative influence on each of us. There are a rare few who look at outcomes as just being outcomes; they don’t necessarily have a strong emotional reaction to a certain outcome.

To change our behavior meaningfully and be adaptable, it’s necessary to identify the six sources of influence on human behavior.

Personal MotivationConnecting vital behaviors to intrinsic motives.
Personal AbilityGaining the ability to develop behaviors through deliberate actions.
Social MotivationGet encouragement from others.
Social AbilitySeek to be surrounded by motivating people while seeking to have limited interaction with people who may hinder progress.
Structural MotivationWhat are the incentives or sacrifices to reach the desired outcome?
Structural AbilityWhat systems are in places to encourage vital behavior changes and discourage negative thoughts or influences?

After we understand these sources of influence, we can decide to use one or all of these sources to make the necessary changes to our behavior.

Developing into Effective Leaders

Because we are high-functioning human beings and not creatures who are not always born with instinctive knowledge, we can develop into highly effective leaders. Leadership is an ability that is often discussed in classrooms, auditoriums or military training grounds, but it is not an innate trait reserved for a select few.

Through mentorship, books, workshops, or classes, leadership is something that can be learned, developed, and improved. We just need to have the desire and the resources to make the change.

Dr. Parker currently serves as the Department Chair, Transportation and Logistics Management, Supply Chain Management, Reverse Logistics Management, and Government Contracting and Acquisition. Dr. Parker is a native of Temple, Texas, a certified Inspector General by the Association of Inspector Generals, and a proud member of professional organizations advancing knowledge and professionalism, such as the Association of Supply Chain Management and the National Naval Officers Association. Dr. Parker is a published author, inspirational speaker, consummate entrepreneur, and consultant who speaks worldwide on diversity, inclusion, and leadership. He holds a Ph.D. in organization and management from Capella University, an MBA from Liberty University, and a B.A. in history from Wittenberg University. Learn more about Dr. Parker by visiting Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr. Inspires.

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