The adventures of an accidental leader

A woman speaks to a several business partners

A perspective on leadership and the influences that shaped a leadership journey.

We had the opportunity to interview a client who participated in our 2021 Wells Fargo Affluent Women’s survey on how women manage through periods of change and uncertainty. She provided us with her perspective on leadership and the influences that have shaped her leadership journey. We’re sharing her story to provide inspiration as you consider the opportunities that arise in your life.

We’ve all heard the terms “born leader” or “natural leader” or yes, here it comes, “natural-born leader.” But do all leaders really arrive that way fresh out of the proverbial package? Or can they be trained? Or do they simply … evolve? For me, I don’t think it’s nature or nurture but a little bit of both. Life is rarely black and white after all — but rather, a whole lot of grey.

Lesson 1: Don’t be afraid to take the first step

I’ve always worked. And I loved it, but funnily enough in the way that’s not really funny, I was actually making less money by working because what I was paying for child care to allow me to work far exceeded my salary. Light bulb. Why work for someone else? I’d start my own business. As a woman in my mid-20s, I should have been terrified, and I was — a little — but not as much as you might think.

I ran the business myself — some ups, some downs, but great experience all the way through — and gradually, without quite realizing it, I was also becoming a leader. I didn’t have a business background (it wasn’t all that long ago that I still had to Google what an ETF was). Heck, at that age, you don’t have background in much of anything, and I’d often wondered what, aside from my financial situation, prompted such a bold decision at such a young age.

I believe we all have the capacity to be leaders in one way or another.

Lesson 2: You learn more than you realize through osmosis

While the biological definition of osmosis is the process by which a liquid passes through the wall of a living cell (did I mention that I started out as an educator?), we typically employ it using the more common vernacular an ability to learn and understand things gradually and without much effort. Is that how I became a leader? I don’t think so, but sometimes it sure feels that way.

Between friends and relatives, I was around business — and the qualities required to run one — from early on, and I think some of it must have sunk in. And those I knew who were running their own businesses were what people would consider “natural leaders.” You could see it. They simply oozed confidence.

Lesson 3: Recognizing your inner entrepreneur

I got involved in student government in high school, and I think that was really the first moment I had consciously thought that I might have the chops to do something like that — something entrepreneurial. But I didn’t really think about it again until I started that business at 20-something.

Running the business really changed everything. I would talk and think business all the time, first out of necessity and then for the sheer pleasure of it. And I really began to love it. It brought out that hibernating entrepreneurialism and I realized it had always been there, but I hadn’t really seen it because it had never been formalized by education. But running my business rekindled all those things I remember from being surrounded when I was younger by people who were passionate about business. And now it was my turn.

Lesson 4: Recognizing you’re up to the task

I ran my business for a decade and loved it. But it wasn’t easy. My husband traveled. A lot. He’d sometimes be away for two weeks at a time, and meanwhile, I’m running a business with two young kids.

So yes, not easy. Ultimately, I sold the business and stayed home with the kids for a few years. When they were older, the itch returned and I began what would become a second successful career. But before all of that, we had to get a part-time nanny while I was still running the business. It’s really quite amazing how much joy one can derive from going to the grocery store alone.

Becoming the leader you were meant to be

Okay, it’s eye-roll time. What advice would I give to my younger self? Yes, I know we’ve all heard this question before, ad nauseam perhaps, but that’s just because it’s a really good question — and I’ve been asked it several times.

And my answer, in short, is that anyone can be a leader. Don’t be intimidated by the “born” leaders because you’re not like them. Don’t be deterred by the “natural” leaders because they seem to have it all figured out. Here’s a little secret — they don’t.

I believe we all have the capacity to be leaders in one way or another. I was surrounded by natural leaders early on but didn’t believe myself to be one of them (see above advice). But I had those skills that could support being a leader and evolved them over time. I don’t think I recognized it in myself because all one ever heard about leadership was that it had to be innate, that you had to be born with it.

Looking back, I think it was innate to a certain degree for me, as I believe it is in all of us, but not in an overt way. And that’s okay. I had support, which was a huge part of my success — from my family, my team of advisors — which gave me the confidence to do things not how someone else thought they should be done but in a way that was comfortable for me.

People sometimes ask me about my leadership style, and I joke and say, “The softer side of Sears.” And I wouldn’t have it any other way because, as it turned out, I am a natural leader. Natural to me.

The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Wells Fargo & Company or its affiliates.