Can Leadership Be Taught?

I’ve had a recent love hate relationship with Twitter. There are times that I go and check my feed and I just don’t see anything that I want to respond to, and at others times the conversation drags me in and I can spend hours chatting. The latter happened recently when I was online one night and happened to see the #SocialLeader chat in my feed. The official topic was “The Threat and Promise of Autonomous Teams” and leadership was a focus of some of the questions the host asked. A comment was made saying that some leadership skills couldn’t be taught, and I didn’t quite agree with that.

Can leadership be learned? Photo Credit: Svilen Milev /
Can leadership be learned? Photo Credit: Svilen Milev /

First let’s define what attributes a good leader should have. And since I don’t expect you to take my word for it, here’s what Peter Economy lists in his article on, The 9 Traits That Define Great Leadership: Awareness, Decisiveness, Empathy, Accountability, Confidence, Honesty, Focus, and Inspiration. If those are the traits of a good leader, the question is are we born with or without those traits, or can they be acquired or learned? Can leadership be taught?

I do believe that some people are born natural leaders. Some people just happen to have it in them to lead and they can lead well. They don’t get nervous in the spotlight, they make good decisions quickly, and motivating others seemingly comes easy to them. If you happen to be one that has these gifts naturally, you’re at an advantage. If you don’t happen to be one of these people, are you just out of luck?

There’s a difference between learning a skill and being comfortable using it. If public speaking doesn’t come naturally it’s still something that you can practice and learn to be good at, but that doesn’t mean it makes it much easier to get in front of a crowd and talk. Case in point, I was recently watching The Next Food Network Star, and one contestant clearly was not comfortable in front of the camera. Towards the end of the season, he was able to learn how to relax and embrace being on camera. But it didn’t make it any easier for him, and I’ll bet that if you asked him that he would tell you the same. It is a skill that he didn’t naturally have, but had to acquire.

Just because people seem to be born with some leadership traits doesn’t automatically make them good leaders. There are plenty of people that love to take command and throw their voice around and act with confidence, but can’t get anyone to follow them.

Ultimately I do think that you can learn to be a leader, and that it’s not either you have it or you don’t. What are your thoughts?

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