Leadership can be learned (but can’t be taught)

If you are interested in “leadership” at all, I am sure you have either heard of this topic of debate and/or participated (vigorously) in the discussion.  The reason for the continued discourse is because there is really no way to anyone to “prove” an answer.  That said, here is my take on the topic.

We cannot teach anything to someone unless they are seeking the answers we have to offer.  To take this one step further, there is also a challenge in who is communicating, how communication is taking place, and the message as well.  When people come to the conclusion they want/need to learn something, they will engage in a selection process that filters all that is available until they find something that resonates with their sense of legitimacy.  When it comes to something like leadership, it is very much a personal decision as it tends to run to the core of who we are how we interact with others.  In order to learn leadership, we have to be prepared to give someone else access to many things we tend to keep guarded.  This means that TRUST will be front and center as we select the correct teacher.  If we wanted to learn algebra or chemistry, we would seek out someone has formal education or is known to be smart in these matters.  With leadership is more about a “match” on a personal level.

This is why I believe the focus on leadership development should be less about the teacher and more about the learner. An analogy of my thoughts on this would be like going to a tailor to get a suit.  When have you ever gone to buy something like this and had someone tell you, “This is the suit I have.  If it doesn’t fit you, you need to lose/gain some weight because it is the only size I sell.”  I doubt this person would be in business for long.  Here are some thoughts on how the process (this works for buying a suit or finding a leadership “teacher”):

  • Do they ask you a lot of questions? You want to be wary if the first time to speak to them they tell you they have the perfect solution for you.
  • Are your measurements taken? There also has to be some objective measurements to support the subjective answers to their questions.  I would like to trust you when you say your are 36 Slim but let’s take a look just to be sure.  Works the same way when you are asked how others view you.  We could take your word for it or we could ask others confidentially.
  • Is there more than one choice? After they gather the information and have time to think about it, is all you are being offered the standard dark blue suit?  Are there multiple solutions or only one?  Reason to be wary?  If the only tool you have is a hammer, every issues begins to look like a nail!
  • Did your salesman have a job selling washing machines 6 months ago? You want to know that this is the passion of the person you are dealing with.  You want a craftsman/artisan who knows the subject matter extremely and not just a tad bit better than you.  You want someone passionate about what they do.
  • Feel like you are being “sold”? Everyone loves to buy but few like to be sold.  Arriving at a solution is pretty much a matter of listening and creating the solution that fits the need (in a practical manner).
  • Is there service after the sale? After you left with your bespoke suit, did you receive a follow up call or letter thanking you for your business and inviting you back?  Did they tell you to come back if you have any problems?
  • Would you recommend them? This is really the most important question.  After it is all said and done, would you put your name on the line?

Identifying someone to assist in developing your leadership abilities is a very personal matter and should be treated as such.  While the drivers for this effort are most likely from the business world, the effects are much more far-reaching in nature.  They will impact you to the very core of who you are.  For this reason, take your time and do not rush the process because “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” (Buddhist Proverb)

Lead on!


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