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Can you Teach Leadership: Confronting Conventional Thought

Apr 9, 2008
Many people, including many colleges and universities, are firm in the belief that leadership is an inborn trait and cannot be taught as a field of study. This belief is rooted in the historical context of charismatic leaders who rose to leadership roles as a response to economic, religious, and political events. Looking at the accomplishments of such leaders as Joan of Arc, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower one does indeed wonder if someone could be taught to lead peoples and nations.

It is important to make the distinction between charismatic leaders and leaders who draw their power from their technical skills and abilities. Today's business leaders find their authority from a superior basis of technical skill, communications, energy, and interpersonal relations.

Many pioneering educational institutions are developing leadership programs that embrace a well-rounded exposure to all business topics. But more than just teaching skill related topics, students are introduced to the philosophy of leadership. Students gain much from the study of techniques, skills, and contextual problems of leadership and situations in which leadership can flourish.

Conventional thought dictates that academia offer specialized coursework in skill related subjects and that leadership is a vocational topic. Leadership, some believe, can only be learned "on the job." But, through the many alternative forms of education available today, a potential leader can find leadership education as close as their computer. Learning how to influence group behavior and effect change is chronicled in the experiences of every successful company.

But does reading about today's successful leaders provide a foundation for future leaders to recreate those successes? YES! The motivation and inspiration contained in those contextual experiences does create an "I can do that too!" attitude. Reading about the journeys of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs has inspired thousands to embrace the software industry as the "New Frontier." Reading about Donald Trump has made the real estate market a "Wild West" for everyday Americans who seek to make their fortune in buying, rehabilitating, and selling property. The experiences of those who have enjoyed success inspire millions to take leadership roles in their businesses and communities.

The phenomenon of mentoring further bolsters the concept that leaders are not born, but are made. As leaders in companies take entry level employees under their wings and share their wisdom, an army of future leaders are created. Many of these employees are not in leadership positions and often do not see themselves as potential leaders. They want to advance in their organization and develop their skills, but through the guidance of a trusted mentor, they grow into a leader. The courage, motivations, and inspiration of such mentors are infectious and are changing lives everyday.

But, the fundamental question still remains "can anyone become a leader?" Are leaders born with inherited traits that make them superior? Conventional thought says that leadership is inborn. But the body of thought born of today's dynamic and evolving business world says NO! The situations and contexts where leaders emerge prove that leaders are everywhere and with the right opportunity, anyone can become a leader. The shy, awkward employee can emerge as a leader when they are in an environment where courage is welcomed, where expertise is valued, where new ideas are encouraged, and where risk taking is promoted.

The effective manager gives those shy, awkward employees a safe place to reach out and take on leadership roles. They weren't born to be leaders; they were inspired to become leaders. They prepared themselves for their future roles by listening and learning from others. They recognized the situations and opportunities where their potential could be realized. They took that final risk of assuming a role they were not born to do, but grew into.

This is the new generation of leaders we see everyday. They are the foundation and future of business today and if we waited for one to be born we would exist in a wasteland of followers with no leaders. The fact that we can grow and nurture them is proven in the landscape of the business world where leaders emerge, evolve, and enrich the lives of all around them.
About the Author
Melissa Vokoun is a successful Business Advisor, Coach and Trainer. To learn more about the services available, please visit the website at: http://www.coachingqueen.com or call 847-392-6886.
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