Can Leadership Be Taught?

Can Leadership Be Taught? The case of Lincoln

In the winter of 1830, young Abraham Lincoln faced crippling debt, a failed business venture, and a bleak future. Most would have felt defeated by such setbacks. Yet, two decades later, this man would guide the United States through an incredibly divisive and challenging time as the 16th President. How did a country boy with minimal formal education rise to such a position? Was he born with a leadership gene, or did he cultivate it over a lifetime of hardships, self-reflection, and relentless learning? In our rapidly evolving world, where technological shifts and societal structures demand adaptability, this age-old question arises with renewed vigor: Can leadership be taught?

We tend to choose leaders based on qualities not necessarily indicative of outstanding leadership. These individuals are hyper-extroverted, have the best oral communication skills, or are the department’s best contributors. Although these individuals can be great leaders given the proper guidance and a growth mindset, a different set of personal qualities is required for great leadership. As Lincoln’s story suggests, authentic leadership is honed through experience, self-awareness, and continuous learning. So, how can one learn to be a leader?

Can Leadership Be Taught? If So, Then How Can Aspiring Leaders Learn?

  1. Structured Learning: While real-world experiences are invaluable, formal education in leadership principles, whether through degree programs, workshops, or seminars, provides foundational knowledge and a broader understanding of diverse leadership styles. Sign up for online platforms like one of Peregrine’s many courses on leadership dynamics, conflict resolution, and management strategies. Books such as The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner, Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek, and Leadership Essentials by Oedekoven, Lavrenz, et al. provide rich insights into leadership principles. 
  2. Continuous Feedback: Regular feedback helps identify strengths and areas of improvement. A willingness to listen and adapt is a hallmark of great leaders. Encourage a culture of open feedback within your team. Consider tools like 360-degree feedback, which allows peers, subordinates, and superiors to provide input. Learn more about 360-degree feedback here.
  3. Mentorship: By learning from someone who has already walked the path, aspiring leaders can gain insights, wisdom, and guidance to help steer their leadership journey. Seek out leaders within your organization or industry for mentorship. Peregrine provides virtual one-on-one mentoring with our 360-degree leadership skills evaluation, EvaluSkills. Also, books like One Minute Mentoring by Ken Blanchard offer guidance on establishing and getting the most from a mentoring relationship.
  4. Diverse Experiences: Leaders are not made in offices or boardrooms alone. Engaging in community service, traveling, or even taking on projects outside one’s comfort zone can shape leadership abilities. Platforms like VolunteerMatch or GoAbroad can provide opportunities to engage in diverse experiences, from community service to international projects.
  5. Self-reflection: The most impactful leaders often have a profound self-awareness. Taking the time to introspect and understand one’s values, strengths, and areas for growth is crucial. Set aside time weekly or monthly for self-reflection. Journaling, meditation, or even walks in nature can aid in introspection. Evaluate decisions, ponder on feedback received, and set goals for improvement. Meditation apps like Headspace or Calm offer guided sessions for contemplation. Books such as Daring Greatly by Brené Brown or Drive by Daniel Pink delve into introspective exploration and motivation.

The Imperative of Learning Leadership: The Case of Patrick Awuah

Why is learning leadership important? There’s a significant difference between managing tasks and inspiring vision. Leadership education molds individuals who can envision a brighter future and rally others toward that vision.

Patrick Awuah, the founder of Ashesi University in Ghana, believed in this deeply. By establishing a university that emphasized ethical leadership and critical thinking, Awuah aimed to create a generation of leaders who would transform Africa.

Watch the video below to see just one case that exemplifies why leadership matters.

The Leadership Continuum

Perhaps the most accurate perspective is to view leadership on a continuum. On one end, there are inherent traits and characteristics. On the other, the skills and qualities cultivated over a lifetime of learning and experience. Most leaders need to harness their natural abilities and continuously strive to learn and grow.

While the debate on the origin of leadership might never see a definitive conclusion, one thing is clear: leadership can, without a doubt, be nurtured and refined. Whether you’re an aspiring leader or someone with years of experience, the leadership development journey never ends. It’s a path of continuous learning, growth, and evolution. And that, in itself, is the essence of outstanding leadership.

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