Can Leadership be Taught?

Tai Chi Master and Student by

Can Leadership be taught? This was the question that Jim Heskett asked on a recent article, by the same name, on Harvard Business School.

This post is the result of my reflection about the question and I hope that it can help you find your own answer.

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, leadership means “to guide on a way, especially by going in advance”. The words ‘lead,’ ‘leader,’ and ‘leadership’ share a common root the word ‘to go’. If you combine both concepts you get that a leader is someone that is going somewhere (vision) through a way (their guiding principles) as an example for others.

“Going in advance” means that a leader needs to lead himself first, on the way to fulfill his Vision of what it’s the meaning of Life. This means that anyone that is engaging in this kind of quest is a leader.
Discovering what’s the meaning of Life is a process and, just like any process, can be taught. That’s also what I call Personal Success – knowing, living and making meaning in Life.

Remembering and doing these things are a habit of successful leaders.

Another habit of successful leaders is following and learning from leaders that represent what they want to become and are where they want to be. This is means that a great leader must be a follower of greatness. While this is a skill that can be taught it requires:

  1. having the humility to realize that one doesn’t know it all
  2. having the courage to face the unknown
  3. having the ambition to become more

William James once said that “the great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it“.That’s not only something that great leaders take to heart but that’s also what inspires people to follow them.

That’s why great leaders aren’t self-serving leaders with a never-ending need to serve their EGO. Jim Collins wrote about this, on “Good to Great”, describing that Level 5 Leaders “channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious—but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution and its greatness, not for themselves“.

Can this be taught? Lectures about this can teach leaders about the EGO and how to control it. However, if they don’t have it in their Heart, they will crumble in moments of stress or great adversity.

Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges, wrote a book together called “Lead like Jesus”, describing the 4 domains of a Leader:

  1. Heart: who are you and whom are you
  2. Head: what your leadership beliefs
  3. Hands: your behaviour as a leader
  4. Habits: what are the activities that you constantly commit to doing

You can teach the Head what to know and the Hands what to do.

The Habits take self-discipline to do but you can train yourself on that skill too.

The Heart is the root of it all and the only way to teach it… is by example. That’s the reason why most people answer that the greatest leaders they know are their fathers, mothers and people really close to them.

Ken Blanchard’s wife, Margie Blanchard, has the best definition of leadership of all times.

Leadership IS Love!

When somebody asked her “what is leadership?” she answered:

Leadership is not about Love. Leadership IS Love! Is loving your mission. Is loving your costumers. Is loving your employees. And get this… is loving yourself enough to get yourself out of the way so other people can become magnificent.