There are many aspects of great leadership that can be taught and just as many that have to come intuitively, as though from a secret sense. Let me describe one of these latter ones here.

We have many tools today for analyzing personality, discerning what motivates people, and unearthing what kind of leader they might be. Use whatever works for you. I mean that sincerely. Yet you must—hear me, you must—develop your own sense about people—what they do well and what they cannot do well. This discernment should be wrapped in compassion and yet fueled by the sharpest of insight. Failure to develop this sense will mean failure in leadership. Forgive me for being so blunt, but it’s true.

I love the unique beings we all are. I love teaming people so their gifts complement each other and they achieve as a team what they never could on their own. Yet I’ve also been called in to help fix a lot of situations in which the wrong person was put in the wrong role and disaster resulted.

What normally happens in such situations is that a leader/boss sees a person’s central gift but fails to see the corresponding weaknesses. So a gifted man was put in a position in which he was destined to fail. It could have been avoided—with a bit more thought, a bit more insight, and a bit more observation.

Here are two examples from my consulting work. All names here have been changed, by the way.

Jake was a good man. He had spent a career in academics. He also cut an impressive figure physically. So he was put in a lead position, one that involved a great many final decisions that had to be made quickly. Yet Jake was the kind of guy who needed to deliberate, to ponder, to run his mind over all the nuances and options. Academics often think like this. He would never be a good “decider.” But he could be a great analyst for someone who was a decider, and then he could help sell decisions with his physical presence and fine speaking skills. He was about to be fired when I was asked to help. I moved Jake to an advisory position for a decider and added a PR component to his role. He’s thriving. Someone just had to consider the whole of his personality.

Shawna had the opposite problem from Jake. She loved making decisions and loved bringing change. She was bold, decisive, and courageous. Her problem was that she often moved too quickly, saw situations only in broad terms, and didn’t consider the details. She was in trouble by the time I was asked to help. I teamed her with a friendly, people oriented, bean counter-type. Don’t be offended by the language. Some folks love action and forward motion. They hate details. Some folks love spreadsheets and then love having coffee with new friends. It’s an odd combination, perhaps, but Shawna needed someone at her side just like that. It worked. Shawna continued being bold and decisive, but now she could also be wise and compassionate.

You see how it goes. You have to think about people—their gifts, their fears, their weaknesses, their blindness. Then get them the help they need and team them well.

This is part of the intuitive nature of leadership. Don’t run from such things. Don’t think that if it isn’t in a book it doesn’t matter. Develop your intuition about people and then trust it. Great leaders do.