Natural leaders have instincts that allow them to interact more constructively with peers and reports while making better decisions. Instinctual leaders find it natural to praise deserving employees, take responsibility, provide feedback, communicate seamlessly, and ask for support.

Leadership instincts are gut reactions and feelings characteristic of natural leaders. Leadership coaching can help develop leadership skills and fine-tune instincts, but some people have natural proclivities that make them better suited to lead and inspire others.

Leadership instincts cannot supplant hard work, but they can make it easier for leaders to become the best versions of themselves.

Leadership instincts are primal proclivities for leadership.

Decision-making is the leadership realm that best rewards instinctual leaders. Making quick, on-the-spot decisions relying on gut feelings is a specialty of those instinctually inclined to lead. The view that instinctual decision-makers are the best leaders has some acceptance in business coaching circles, but the role of instincts in leadership is more nuanced.

Positive Instinctual Leadership Behaviors 

Intelligent leadership promotes a set of leadership behaviors that inspire, empower, and engage people. By modeling such behaviors, leaders sow the seeds of culture, coaching, and mutual support in their organizations. Some leaders find themselves engaging in many of these behaviors instinctively.

1. Praising Employees

Some leaders have a knack not just for praising their deserving employees, but for delivering praise in line with the principles of intelligent leadership. In addition to offering genuine praise predicated upon observed behaviors and aligned values, such leaders also:

  • Thank their reports by name, increasing the impact of the praise
  • Provide clear examples
  • Provide context for the praise, explaining how the praised behavior helps the team, organization, and the individual
  • Include a suggestion for the future as a reinforcing message

2. Taking Responsibility

In my executive coaching books, I’ve insisted on the role of leadership maturity in intelligent leadership. Many of the mistakes that leaders make stem from immaturity. Not taking responsibility for one’s actions, decisions, or outcomes is an example of leadership immaturity.

Mature leaders are the first to admit they are wrong. They don’t fear vulnerability. Instead, they see it as a tool to model mature leadership behaviors to their followers and instill an atmosphere of psychological safety conducive to honesty.

3. Providing Feedback

Mature leaders don’t insist on receiving or providing relevant feedback because the principles of intelligent leadership require that approach. They offer honest, constructive feedback because they want to help others.

Feedback engages and motivates. 

Intelligent leaders are as open to receiving feedback as they are to provide it. Feedback is a two-way street that allows leaders to steer organizational ships, helping reports succeed in alignment with organizational purposes and values.

Feedback allows employees to have a say about the leadership and engage in dialogue with their superiors.

The free, honest flow of feedback in both directions improves employee engagement and empowerment, setting the stage for improved productivity and more efficient organizational processes.

4. Seamless Communication

Instinctual leaders are good communicators. Effective communication is second nature to such leaders. They understand that explaining clearly and listening actively are important communication tools.

The purpose of leadership communication is manifold:

  • It relays information about the company’s culture, purpose, and vision.
  • It builds trust and rapport with peers and employees.
  • It encourages employees and provides motivation.
  • It imparts a shared vision with the stakeholders, enabling them to buy into the organization.

5. Enlisting Help and Seeking Support

Intelligent leaders don’t exist in a vacuum of perfection. They don’t know a perfect solution to every problem, but they never hesitate to rely on the support of their followers and show them due appreciation.

Showing vulnerability by asking for help is an intelligent leader’s way to:

  • Show strength of character and model a desirable behavior
  • Gain a valuable perspective
  • Show mutual support and understanding
  • Give others a chance to spread their wings

Although instinctual behavior on the part of a leader is not always positive or desirable, when coupled with leadership maturity, it allows the leader to make great decisions and engage reports in constructive ways.


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