Why We Can–And Should–Teach Leadership

Whether one is born a leader or not, I have no doubt that leadership can be taught. And, most importantly, it can be learned.

Many business schools tend to jump right to organizational leadership and focus on strategy. Very seldom do business schools get personal with their students and really help them take a hard look at who they are and why they’re leading. You can only lead somebody else, a team or an organization, if you have your own act together–effective leadership starts on the inside. -Ken Blanchard, Forbes, October, 2007

More and more of the most successful and well-known business leaders are beginning to see that our present approach to leadership development; one that focuses on organizational strategy, and leadership tips and techniques; does not get at the heart of what it takes to lead others effectively.

Successful EMBA programs begin with lessons on self-leadership. Once students understand themselves and develop their own leadership point of view, the next phase of their transformational journey should be leading others.

When you look at yourself, you gain perspective. When you learn to lead another person, you learn about building trust. Without trust, it is impossible for an organization to function effectively. Trust between leaders and their people is essential for working together. As leaders develop a trusting relationship with people in the one-on-one arena, they become trustworthy. This is great preparation for managing a team. Leading a group is more complicated than leading an individual, because the focus becomes building a community. -Ken Blanchard, Forbes, October, 200

In order to develop the leadership we need to transform education we are going to need amazing leaders at all levels. If we continue to develop leaders by focusing on everything external, organizational strategy, and tips and techniques; not much will change.

The emerging approach to leadership development described by Ken Blanchard is one I invite each of us to take seriously. We can’t continue doing leadership development the same way and expect different results. By looking within we have the opportunity to strengthen our own leadership abilities. It takes an authentic leader to build the trust needed to lead others. This is the foundation on which most successful organizational transformations stand.

If we are committed to educational transformation, then we need to develop the leadership attributes that are within us.



6 thoughts on “Why We Can–And Should–Teach Leadership

  1. I’m not sure you can teach leadership but it’s worth trying. I think most of what passes as leadership training is about managership and the two are not mutually compatible nor desirable. Leadership involves passion and while you might be able to imbue passion I’m not sure that it can be taught.

    The military can imbue passion as they do in any of our service academies or during basic training but how can that happen in public education where the concern seems more about creating a politically correct mentality that de-emphasizes passion of any kind.

    On a more positive note I read just yesterday that the MacArthur Foundation has some research that indicates that game playing by students in a variety of mediums that include cell phones and PCs may help students to become politically active. Most teachers and administrators are actually scared of passionate learners even though they say otherwise.

  2. I wonder if we need to differentiate “teaching to” from “learning with.” I think Don is right – you can’t TEACH people passion or leadership.

    So what we need to be doing is:
    1) model true, authentic, relentlessly passionate leadership
    2) support those around us on their journey toward the same kind of authenticity that leads to true leadership.

    Pete – you are such an amazing guide on this journey! You ask the right questions – the ones that get us thinking for ourselves. And you are so conscious about not jumping in as the “expert” to “give answers.”

    Last week you advised me to get out of my head in order to finish the presentation I’d been working on for my District.

    I am so thankful that you guided me to find my own answers!

    My presentation on what I want for my children and what I want from teachers is here: http://www.iwasthinking.ca/2008/09/19/what-i-want-for-my-children/

    I am so grateful for you! You truly model the kind of “teaching” of leadership that we all have to do – teaching by example!

    With gratitude,

  3. Can we really Train Leaders?

    Which types of developmental activities will have the greatest impact on increasing executives’ effectiveness? How can leaders achieve positive long-term changes in behavior? Lured by the promise of instant success, many companies are writing checks without asking critical questions about program design and actual accomplishments.

    Leadership programs work very well if they use a multi-tiered approach. Most fall into one of four types:

    Personal growth programs

    Skill-building programs

    Feedback programs

    Conceptual awareness programs

    Effective leadership training must have some type of transfer-of-learning mechanism that translates to real work situations.

    Marshall Goldsmith and Howard Morgan conducted one of the most revealing studies on the effectiveness of leadership training programs (strategy+business, Fall 2004). They reviewed programs at eight major corporations. Each company had the same goal for its leaders: to determine desired organizational behaviors that align with actual practices. Companies, however, used different methodologies: offsite training versus onsite coaching, short versus long duration, internal versus external coaches and traditional classroom-based training versus on-the-job interaction.

    As Goldsmith explains: “Rather than just evaluating ‘participant happiness’ at the end of a program, each of the eight companies measured the participants’ perceived increase in leadership effectiveness over time. ‘Increased effectiveness’ was not determined by the participants in the development effort; it was assessed by pre-selected co-workers and stakeholders.”

    The participants’ ongoing interaction and follow-up with colleagues was the determining factor that emerged as central to achieving positive long-term change. Leaders who discussed their own improvement priorities with coworkers, with regular follow-ups, showed striking improvement. Leaders who failed to maintain ongoing dialogue with colleagues showed improvement that barely exceeded random chance.

  4. Don,
    I feel strongly that leadership can be taught. In fact, I have been a student who has been learning to lead for more than a decade.

    I agree that the way we approach leadership in education is very superficial and that if we ignore the role of ‘passion’ or ‘commitment’ in the process then we won’t get very far.

    When I work to develop leaders we always start with “purpose”. Life purpose…professional purpose. The closer those two are aligned the deeper the passion and commitment. This portion of the learning is worth its weight in gold because so many of us are so mired in our day to day struggles and challenges that we have lost sight of our purpose. Bringing it back into focus is invaluable.


  5. Heidi,
    Thank you for your kind words. I love your video. It hits the heart and resonates like a tuning fork. When that happens people open to new distinctions and it helps us see new possibilities.

    in appreciation

  6. John,
    Your comment is aligned with my approach to leadership.

    One of the missing elements is putting whatever concepts and insights one has into action. That requires practice and feedback. When I work with someone I generally ask them to identify a trusted colleague or colleagues with whom they can share their personal leadership development goals.

    For example, if I am working on being a more effective listener, these folks would know that and I can ask for feedback after a meeting on how well they thought I listened. Sometimes we have blind spots and our trusted colleagues can help us see how we are doing.

    Practicing new behaviors in the workplace takes commitment and courage; but it yields tremendous results over time.


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