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Can Leadership be taught?

November 26, 2012

..or are people born with it? On a recent flight,I was engaged in a conversation with a business owner over this very question. With a reasonable size team, spread wide geographically this gentleman argued that even with the best educators, many of his team members did not implement the tools they were learning and often reverted back to their old habits.

Given I have been teaching leadership and helping organisations implement leadership strategies for over a decade, it led me to consider the reality of this debate. The answer to this question is simple. Yes, leadership, like all skills, can be taught. However, The real question actually should be, can leadership be learnt? And often it takes more than just formal training for a person or an organization to learn the leadership skills required.

Research suggests that for most people, developing as a leader entails, first and foremost, a fundamental transformation and commitment to molding and developing their personal influencing skills. It involves reexamining their core beliefs and assumptions that they hold about themselves.

What is leadership anyway?¬† To put it simply, leadership is the core influencing skill that gets individuals working together to make things different or to make things better — for themselves, for their enterprise, for the world around them.

Much of what is taught in leadership education is, in fact, not leadership at all but management. It is possible to learn and even to put into practice what is taught and still fail at being a good leader. The key components of leadership have remained more or less constant: emotional intelligence, insight, instinct, vision, communication, discipline, courage, and resilience. It is possible that all can be studied time and time again but often not learned.

When you think of great leaders either in your own life, stories you have read or people we see in the media everyday, consider what made them this. It is often hard won lessons and experiences that has honed this skill and their ability to continually review, question and evolve themselves. People need to be exposed to situations that will challenge their own behavioral styles and leaders and potential leaders need to be open to learn from these lessons.

Formal leadership education also needs to be complimented by great mentors, people who encourage a person or a team to step into a new situation or environment and support their growth through this process and develop the core competencies that make up leadership.

So, in effect my debate partner was probably correct, although we were probably debating the wrong question. At the heart of it, finding people who are open to learn and implement what they are being taught is the key, often those people just need to have someone who believes in them and can support them to unlock that door.

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