The Two Types of Leaders
A leader is a dealer in hope. – Napoleon Bonaparte
Comparing and contrasting the two types of leaders: natural leaders and coercive leaders.
I came across a Reddit post a few days ago, that briefly explained the different types of leaders. It was no more than two sentences, but the commenter’s speedy classification resonated with me.
He broke up leaders into two categories: charismatic and forceful. Charismatic leaders rarely have to spend much time persuading or convincing their followers. Forceful leaders often win over their opponents, and the trust of their team by exhibiting aggressive and confrontational behavior.
I agree with the basic premise, but I prefer different labels: natural leaders, and coercive leaders.
For sure, I believe that natural leaders equals charismatic leaders. This is the type of leader, and honestly the type of person that all people aspire to be.
Natural leaders feel comfortable in the driver’s seat—as a matter of fact, they hate playing the game if they’re not in charge.
Their personalities are magnetic. If you have a conversation with a natural leader, you’ll leave the conversation feeling drunk off their words. You might go in there with a strong conviction about something, but leave with a completely open mind and not feel duped or threatened.
Part of the appeal of natural leaders is their outcome independence. They don’t seem to care about whether or not you like them or follow them. This lack of insecurity is a genuinely rare trait in the world, which is the very reason that people then gravitate towards them. They figure someone who is that confident of themselves must be worth listening to.
After all, natural leaders hardly get upset or lose their cool. This makes them a rock, a guide by which their followers can count on when they themselves are in moments of uncertainty.
Natural leaders are certainly aided by conventional good looks or riches, but given that their powers largely come from non-material sources—their mindset and their words, it is capable for natural leaders to be physically unappealing or unassuming.
Natural leaders just get it. They have some sort of usually fantastical vision that they can sell to everyone and anyone around them. Good luck seems to beget them, and they smile, laugh, hug, talk, and listen themselves to positive outcomes.
Just think of the typical person that is good with everyone they meet, from kids to parents to dogs to the opposite sex. That is a natural leader.
An example of a natural leader? Barack Obama. This isn’t a judgement on his actual performance as a leader, but simply an assessment of the qualities that made him able to ascend to the presidency at such a young age.
There are countless reports online of political enemies who could not stand his ideology, but were completely entranced by the man. Granted, the political system itself, and the tide of polarization largely neutered his efforts, but there was no doubt by anyone that met him in person or saw him speak—the man was a natural leader.
As time went on, he wore down, and occasionally attempted to adopt the techniques of a coercive leader—a big no-no, as people could see right through the act. This served to drop some of the magic away from his image.
Moving on to the coercive leader. There might be a bit of overlap initially between a coercive leader, versus a natural leader. Depending on the situation, you might meet a coercive leader and be mistaken in assigning them natural leader status.
Only in observing how they act over time, along with the attitude of their enemies and followers, would you be able to observe the difference.
The archetypal coercive leader doesn’t actually have much charisma. The main feeling you get when you meet them is a sense of fear, as if you’ve come into contact with a power hungry black hole.
The coercive leader knows the limits of their words when it comes to persuasion, and this bothers him or her.
This is the reason that they have assumed the mantle of coercion. An average joe who lacks charisma and drive will happily live their lives as a follower.
An average joe who lacks charisma, but has an unquenchable drive to prove him or herself—they’re going to find a way to get the power they want.
More often than not, this can involve actual physical coercion, in the case of criminals or physically intimidating individuals.
There is of course the emotional manipulation, or blackmail that can be employed as a method.
Coercive leaders know they can’t just sit you down and deliver a monologue that will win you over. This frustrates them to no end, because they see the ease with which their natural counterparts inspire and lead, and they are acutely aware of their shortcomings.
Instead, coercive leaders threaten and posture. They bully and oversell.
Don’t get me wrong. They usually get their way. If their intentions are well, coercive leaders are actually capable of doing great things. We may not agree with their methods, but their inner drive is something to admire.
If they become powerful enough, they may seem to emit a false sense of magnetism. It may become harder to distinguish them from natural leaders, especially if they dial back their acts of coercion and simply cruise by on their reputation.
Don’t be fooled. The magnetism their followers are displaying is only a reflection of their status. Their enemies are always distrustful of them, and are willing to take them down by any means necessary (usually other coercive leaders).
The real test to distinguish between the two is to observe them when they’re down and out on their luck.
Natural leaders usually blame themselves for their failures. Even then, they command a great deal of respect and an almost irrational devotion from their followers. The crew stays on with the captain and his sinking ship. They have few legitimate enemies so they don’t have to worry about being curb stomped.
Coercive leaders have mercenary followers. The second they can, they’ll betray and defect for a better opportunity. The enemies will come to pounce on the downtrodden.
What about an example for coercive leaders? You may have already seen this coming. Donald Trump.
Again, this isn’t a post comparing politics, or even the achievements of our presidents. Simply an observation on their managerial style.
Even the biggest MAGA supporter can attest that they love Trump for his hyper-masculine alpha male image. Trump tries to cultivate that image, and his supporters eat it up.
This is also why people despise Trump. Coercive leaders are the easiest to hate, because most people in civilized and egalitarian societies have the innate tendency to hate those who prey on the weak.
I think it’s foolish to hate coercive leaders (or hate anyone for this reason). You cannot fault coercive leaders for playing the game as it is. The only rule in nature is that if you can take it, it’s yours.
Notice how most other true leaders don’t hate Trump, or not to the same degree that the average liberal citizen does. They’ve worked with, for, and against people like him, and they’re not phased by his presence—they’re keeping their head down and working with him to get what they want, or plotting against him (or both). They’re definitely not whining though.
Either become a leader yourself, or enjoy the destiny of not being able to control your own life as a follower.
Obama definitely received his share of hate, but this didn’t become widespread until after he foolishly decided to try coercive methods, which conflicted with his charismatic image.
Natural leaders aren’t naive though. They know that sometimes a coercive touch must be employed. The smartest natural leaders employ coercive underbosses to do their dirty work for them. This way they’re absolved of the guilt, and regardless, they know they wouldn’t be able to complete the task as effectively since they’d be out of their element.
They usually however attract and employ other natural leaders as their seconds-in-command, and sometimes also highly competent/meticulous followers.
Coercive leaders can usually only ever convince other coercive underbosses to join them. There is little variety in their second ranks.
Coercive leaders are usually undone by their inability to recruit people who aren’t mercenaries, or mindless followers.
I’m sure there exist leaders that blend the two categories. Send me examples of people that do. Maybe Steve Jobs? Largely a natural leader because of his powerful vision, but with quite the mean streak.
The one asterisk that I do know exists is that of situational leaders. These people are usually publicly followers, and are neither natural leaders nor coercive.
Think a quiet doctor or ex-military civilian. They don’t have an internal craving for power, but put in to certain scenarios, they are extremely effective at getting the job done and commanding others.
They will probably exhibit this behavior on the daily in their own household/families, but unless you see them at their job, or in some emergency scenario tailored to their skills, you’d think they were just a reserved but capable force.
Maybe they have it right. Being an influential leader comes with lots of responsibility, and opens you up to a world of stress, scrutiny, and pressure. Some people want to build wealth quietly, or live a simple life, and not attract attention.
Some of us want it all.