Whenever I ask a group to close their eyes and think back to someone they worked for who was a great leader, and to remember what they admired about them; I get a very similar list. Here are the top ten items that get mentioned the most:
1) honesty 2) integrity 3) courage 4) accountability 5) vision 6) clarity 7) trustworthy 8} trusting 9) caring 10) inspirational
After the group creates this list I ask a simple question that hits the room as if a bomb was dropped on it, “How do you teach these things to aspiring leaders?”
It’s at that moment when suddenly I begin to hear things like, “Leadership can’t be taught.” “Some people are born leaders.”
If you Google “Leadership” you’ll be pointed to hundreds of thousands of sites and books that describe what great leaders do; they’ll list the “7 Habits”, the “6 Secrets” , the “10 Elements”; but none deal with how we learn the foundations of great leadership, the attributes we know are the most important, the qualities that are reflected in the listed above.
I’ve had people in my sessions say, “Yeah, those things (honesty, integrity, courage, accountability, clarity, vision, trustworthy, trusting, inspirational, etc.) are important…but teach me something “practical” and “concrete”.
What could be more practical and concrete than learning these foundational elements of leadership?
Yet most people choose to ignore them and put their focus on the “tips and techniques” approach to leadership. There are no shortcuts to effective leadership. It is a journey. Those that think they can become leaders and not embody courage, honesty, inspiration, vision, accountability, trust, etc.; are doomed to pretending to be leaders, playing a role rather than truly embodying what makes leaders great.
It’s not surprising that educators who are students of leadership gravitate to “tips and techniques” and in doing so pass over the elements they, themselves, list as the key components of leadership. The “tips and techniques” approach is cognitive “mind work”; the paradigm of learning that is most comfortable and the least threatening for educators. We can learn “tips and techniques” while sitting in a class taking notes. They can be memorized. Anything outside the cognitive domain is not considered “concrete or practical” no matter how concrete or practical it may be.
There is a another way.
So what are we to make of this? Is leadership an accident of birth or can it be learned?