by Scott Cormode, originally posted on Fuller Theological Seminary.

Leadership is a cultivated instinct. At first glance, the phrase “cultivated instinct” seems like a contradiction in terms. We normally think of instincts as coming at birth. Baby birds peck their way out of the egg and then open their beaks to the sky. No one told them that the Mommy Bird would then place wormy morsels in their mouths. In fact, they likely don’t really understand the concept of eating. They simply have the animal instinct. They open their mouths and they survive. That’s normally how we talk about instinct. But it’s not the only way we describe it.

Let me ask you this. Were you born knowing how to drive a car? Of course not. None of us were. But how many of us can now drive while listening to the radio or carrying on a conversation with our kids or making a mental grocery list—or all three at the same time? We do it instinctively. Let me illustrate what I mean. Here in California, freeways are a part of life. I ask my students to picture themselves driving on the freeway and they can all place themselves there instantly. Then I ask them to picture themselves in rush hour traffic (another California constant) that is moving at, say, thirty miles per hour because there are so many other cars. Again, they have no problem picturing that. Then I say, as you are meandering along in sluggish traffic, a cop pulls onto the freeway. And I ask them, what do you do? Immediately, they answer, “We slow down.” And then everyone laughs. We laugh because there is no threat of a speeding ticket when you are going thirty miles an hour on the freeway. But we are so used to exceeding the speed limit that we all instinctively slow down when we see a cop. It’s as if the eyes communicate directly to the foot and the foot comes off the gas pedal before the brain even gets involved. Learning to lead is like learning to drive. It is a cultivated instinct. It is cultivated because no one was born knowing how to drive. But it is an instinct because experienced leaders are able to act without conscious thought.

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