Opinion is divided on this issue. Let’s consider what some academics and business people in the field have to say on the subject.
Peter Drucker, one of the foremost business thinkers of our time, says there may be born leaders, but that leadership can be learnt. He defines a leader as someone who has followers.
An effective leader is not someone who is loved or admired, but whose followers do the right things. Popularity is not leadership, results are.
Harold S. Geneen was an American businessman most famous for serving as president of the ITT Corporation. He said that Leadership cannot really be taught. It can only be learned.
Mark Saner, President of Manifest Communications, Canada’s leading social-marketing agency, says that leadership can be taught because it is a skill, but it is not certain that leadership can be learned.
It seems that leadership, one of the rarest and highly prized components of human capital, is not learned easily or well.
In practice many people develop the beginnings of leadership skills in their youth-through sport, school and college, and in their community, taking roles as prefects, team captains, running drama and debating societies and taking the lead at social events.
Executive education has traditionally focused on business skills, ignoring leadership. Executives are taught to manage, but it is difficult to offer the chance to learn how to lead. As a result a significant proportion of most executive’s leadership development is on the job. Leadership skills are honed almost by chance.
Leadership is a combination of competence and character. Leaders need the courage to create a vision, challenge the status quo, take risks, make and admit mistakes.
Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D. is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College. This is his view:-
“If you accept that leadership can be learned at all (rather than just “being born with it,” or not), and if you also believe that the most powerful lessons about leadership come from one’s own experience, then the matter boils down to the process of how we learn from experience.
If one important factor in learning from experience pertains to how complex or multi-faceted one’s conceptual lenses are for construing experience, then it’s no big stretch to claim that becoming familiar with the complex variables that affect leadership give one a greater variety of ways of making sense of the leadership situations you confront in your own life.
In that way, completing a college course in leadership may not make you a better leader directly and immediately, but actively mastering the concepts in the course can nonetheless accelerate the rate at which you learn from the natural experiences you have during and subsequent to your course.”
Quick Facts: Can you learn Leadership?
Leaders are highly visible, so set examples.
Leadership is not rank, privilege, titles or money. It is responsibility.
Drucker says a leaders behaviours can be characterised as;-
They don’t ask “what do I want? “But “what needs to be done? “
They then ask “what can and should I do to make a difference?”
They ask “what are the organisations mission and goals?”
They are tolerant of diversity, but intolerant of people’s performance, standards and values
They are not afraid of strength in their associates.
They made sure the person they saw in the mirror was the kind of person they wanted to be, respect and believe in.
To summarise then;-
Peter Drucker says there may be born leaders, but that leadership can be learnt.
Harold S. Geneen said that Leadership cannot really be taught. It can only be learned.
Mark Saner, says that leadership can be taught because it is a skill, but it is not certain that leadership can be learned.
Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D. says “….then the matter boils down to the process of how we learn from experience…. actively mastering the concepts can nonetheless accelerate the rate at which you learn from the natural experiences you have during and subsequent to your course.”
So the consensus seems to be that not everyone can learn to be an effective leader, but that a study of leadership can benefit most people’s performance as leaders.
In other courses we will look at many of the tools and principles that leaders use to make them effective, such as team leadership, motivation, feedback, managing change, delegation, communication.