Leadership; is it innate or is it something you can learn?

Every day, we train and coach managers, professionals and management teams to become efficient leaders. This implies that leadership is something you can learn. Many people believe that leadership is innate, that it cannot be learned. In this article, I will explain why and how scientifically sound leadership can be learned.

Nature and nurture

We are all born with a specific inherent predisposition that is based on, for instance, our genetic profile, we call this nature. This genetic profile also determines your talents. Additionally, our development is influenced by various conditions such as upbringing, schooling, et cetera. We call this nurture. These two factors determine our characteristics. However, there is a third factor that shapes our characteristics. That factor, or element, can be found in our brain.


Our brain has a wonderful talent. It can adapt, it can develop new networks. This is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity allows our brain to transform and this can lead to more efficient leadership. Whenever we learn something new, like driving a car, or when we wish to realize a certain goal, or learn a new habit, our brain adjusts. This also holds true when you wish to develop leadership skills, so you can become a leader too!

Leaders with innate leadership qualities

It appears that for leaders with innate leadership qualities, the right frontal lobe of the brain exhibits a higher level of coherence. This coherence influences your social skills, the skills you need in your interaction others. Efficient leaders appear to have great social skills. Fortunately, for those who wish to develop this coherence further, there are training programs.

Programmed approach with the heart as the centre

Developing socials skills cannot be done by reading about it on the Internet or by continuous studying! It is done by adopting a different behaviour in a programmed manner. Here, it is of paramount importance that this new behaviour is nurtured, starting from what you feel is  vital, i.e., starting from your heart.
That’s why my approach is based on these principles. The leadership programmes are designed such that you familiarize yourself with the characteristics befitting a leader of today. Leadership development takes time, so it can’t be done during just one two-hour workshop. Becoming a leader, changing your behaviour, developing the skills that will make you successful, all this takes dedication, energy and time.

Improving self-confidence

One  important aspect of leadership development is developing self-confidence. In my book ‘Neuroleiderschap, van macht naar kracht’ (roughly translated: Neuroleadership, transforming force into power), and in my training and coaching work, I call this the internal leader, or the internal I.

Having a strong internal leader, a lot of self-confidence, is a prerequisite for developing leadership. People whose internal leader is weak have difficulties connecting, they find it hard to regulate their emotions and are not very adept at inspiring others.

The five key messages of leadership development

The following five key messages should always be incorporated in effective leadership development.

  1. Understand how your brain (= brains and awareness) works. It is important that you have an general understanding of how the brain and awareness work. This means that you have to understand how thoughts are formed, where they come from, how thoughts relate to emotions, what awareness is and how you can develop it.
  2. Direct your attention inward. Developing leadership is developing behaviour that inspires yourself and others towards realising a specific important goal. The instrument you use is you. That’s why it is vital that you spend sufficient time on self-reflection and attention training. Beware, this can also be a show stopper! If you don’t have the skills to turn your attention inward every day, it will prove hard to become a good and effective leader.
  3. Connect with your values, with what is crucial to you. Our brain thinks almost nonstop, it’s primarily a source of emotions. But it is in no way certain that your brain tells you what is really important, or how you can be a good leader. That’s why you should connect to what you feel is essential, for yourself and your leadership style, and to then translate this into everyday behaviour.
  4. Intensive, focused and aware practical training. A top athlete can become a world champion only through intensive, focused and aware practice and training. The same holds true for a leader. A leader should practice and train his or her new skills consciously, intensively and with focus in order to familiarize him or herself with this new behaviour.
  5. Organizing feedback. Finally, it is important to arrange for feedback, and feedback that is as transparent as possible. This means that the feedback you receive is not only for you, but is shared with your colleagues, your boss, et cetera. Often, you’ll need a coach to give you feedback, but you also need your colleagues. If your work environment is open, transparent and frank, this can be of great help.


Leadership is all about behaviour and attitude so you can be an inspiration to yourself and others in realizing an important goal. We can all learn this behaviour, there is ample scientific neurological proof. But it does take more than a few hours to learn this, it’s a long term commitment.

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