Can leadership be taught?

It doesn’t seem that long ago I was asked to deliver a workshop in leadership.  As I felt a little weird about delivering such content I agreed to work with the pre-prepared materials and diligently set about delivering the lesson.

After lunch I’d reached my boiling point, I made a snide comment to my co-facilitator (who had passed the organisation’s learning content on to me) and I was exposed.

She asked me to share my comments with the group.

I was feeling too passionate to speak eloquently but my comment sans swearing meant this:

Defining your identity as a leader by a pre-determined leadership style is about as useful as defining your being by your star sign.

The experience was the final motivation I needed to step into the realm of leadership development – if for nothing else to explore if it really is possible to develop leadership skills, when the skill development works and why you would bother in the first place.

At a time where leaders are being asked to be more strategic, more people focused, have better work-life balances, be more social, yet more productive, better networked, partnership focused and multi-skilled it’s little wonder people in leadership positions are grasping for the nearest educational fix.

Just last night the topic of leadership education came up.  It was expressed that leadership was learned through adversity, not school.  While I wholly agree that adversity can be a cruel yet thorough teacher, the problem is that many who suffer adversity consider themselves as failures, not leaders.  Or perhaps survivors who don’t want to relive the past.  Of course that isn’t always the case but my experience is that it often is.

I’ve worked with countless members of disadvantaged communities who are among the wisest leaders I’ve ever met.  But what they lack is the self-confidence to truly step into their leadership capacity.  With strong cultural push to avoid the title ‘leader’ it’s reality that very often those who would make the best leaders will never step up to the plate.

And it’s not very different in the business world.  I’ve worked with so many mums in business (for example) who believe that their family commitments negate their ability to take on leadership positions – or, in contrast mums who take on leadership roles in the school Parents and Citizens association or the like.  These women would kill it as a leader in any environment but either through self-choice or lack of confidence choose to consider this realm enough.

So over the past year I’ve been exploring what it is to be an intentional leader.  What stops people from stepping up and (perhaps more importantly) what gentle nudges can enable and support someone to identify as a leader.  I’ve been working with people to experience themselves as a leader, even if for only a moment.

I don’t care about leadership styles or theories, I do care about arming leaders with the confidence, skills and support mechanisms to be strong and supported leaders.  I care about seeing someone experience themselves as a leader for the first time and seeing that light bulb switch on and I wholly embrace the fact that as the silent leaders in our communities (be they business or social) rise up we’ll be living in a very different world.