Can Leadership Be Taught?

Oct 13, 2016

It Must Be Taught 

Leadership is a risky proposition.  Many people continue to cling to the notion of creating a safe environment or getting the culture right so that more people will exercise leadership.  I would argue that while some environments are more safe than others, no environment is truly safe.  In fact, it is precisely the lack of safety that creates the need for leadership.

Change, innovation, execution, working across boundaries or raising the performance of people are not risk free.  There is no guarantee of success.  Factors such as lack of expertise, fear of failure, cynicism—or a mindset that leadership is someone else’s responsibility—cause far too many people to take a pass at leading.

These factors can be overcome.

Building Better Leaders.  What We Have Learned?
Over the past 20 years my Cambridge colleagues and I have developed over 20,000 leaders.  There is no question that people’s capacity can be dramatically raised.  However, doing so requires a process that grounds the learning experience in the actual challenges and contexts where leaders struggle. This provides a window into where and why they struggle, what they need to learn, and who they need to become in order to raise their performance.
Creating a Powerful Experience.  5 Benchmarks

Educating leaders is first and foremost about getting more people to take responsibility for the work of leadership.  Their talents, perspectives and insights are critical at all levels.  As the world continues to complexify, the cry for more leadership will grow louder.  There are no shortcuts to building better leaders.  There is no easy way, but here are some benchmarks:

  1. Ground the learning in the context of a leader’s real challenge. One they want to address, but struggle to do so.
  2. Assess the gap between a leader’s aspiration and what they are actually achieving.
  3. Determine what actions need to take place in order to close the gap.
  4. Develop the character, skill, values and knowledge needed to mobilize real change.
  5. Move them to take action immediately to apply and cement what they have learned.

Leaders must be challenged through a process where they can learn and change. It needs to happen in a context where they can build new capabilities while tackling issues they personally care about.  Issues that, when addressed, lead to real change and new levels of performance for themselves, their people and the organization.

This is our best knowledge to date.  In a field where fad and fiction are all too prevalent, I hope this helps.


Al Preble, Founder & CEO