Can Leadership Be Learned?

People often find themselves being promoted into leadership positions without having any formal training. Some people rise to the challenge and perform well while others struggle and fail. Why is that?

Some people believe that great leaders are born and not made. This is because it is possible for a leader may emerge from the crowd and save the day. This can happen in certain situations (an emergency where the impromptue leaders knows of the only safe exit) where they have the specific knowledge or skills to ‘save the day’. Its easy to justify situations like this by saying that they were ‘natural leaders’ but there is nothing ‘natural’ about it. Leaders need to earn their title through hard work, dedication, perseverance, innovation, communication and supporting their team.

Research suggests that 30% of leadership may be inborn and 70% is a result of lessons learned through life experiences.

The good news is that this means that people who do not have a high level of natural leadership skills, and find their new leadership role difficult, can develop the skills they need to be a success over time.

Leadership Questions

Leaders often think that they need to lead ‘from the front’ and have all the answers. But in the complex world we often work in this is not possible.

As a new leader you should not be asking:

How can I be a great leader?

Instead you should ask:

How can I support and inspire others to achieve the outcome I want?

The main point here is the shift from ‘I/me’ to ‘you/my team’. By taking this approach, you will be able to see the  areas you can improve in through training, self-reflection and practice. Even the so-called ‘born leaders’ have to work on improving their leadership skills over time.


Leadership is more than just genetics. Its a constantly changing skill developed and perfected over time. It depends on the situation, the complexity of the task and the ability of others involved un the task. However experienced you are, you must be ready to adapt your approach and style to meet the varying situations they face, and this takes practice.

If yiu are a less experienced leader, a feeling of uncertainty is perfectly natural. You must accept that you may not be fully prepared for the challenges ahead and accept that time is needed to develop and grow into your new role.

The first place to start is to look at yourself.  Your strengths and the areas you could improve. You can then play to your strengths while taking time to overcome the areas you need time to develop.

Self Reflection

To do this the American Psychological Association suggest you should ask yourself three basic questions:

  1. What qualities do good leaders possess?
  2. Do I have these qualities?
  3. How can I acquire or improve the leadership qualities I lack?

It should also be recognized that while the most important aspects of leadership can be learned, it does not mean that anyone can be a great leader. Some people do not want the responsibility that comes with being a leader, while others don’t feel comfortable or natural in the role.

Leadership is not a race to develop a set of ‘leadership skills’. There is no such thing as a perfect leadership style or approach. All situations are different and require different approaches. Leadership involves being humble, accepting developing that you cannot do anythig and decelopin/improving your skills over a whole career.

More Cleverness:

Leadership v Management

How to lead others – 6 skills you need to be a great leader

Motivation – Encouraging The Heart

Posted in Leadership.