Can Leadership be learned?

Learn Leadership


  • Leadership is a mix of inherent traits and learned skills based on personal experiences and contexts.
  • Theories on leadership vary, with some attributing it to innate qualities and others to learned skills.
  • Self-perception and motivation play a crucial role in developing leadership competencies influenced by cultural and socio-political contexts.
  • Leadership can be developed over time, often overcoming socio-economic obstacles, though that path may not be available to everyone.
  • Leadership is not just about positional authority but is often expressed through the choices we make and how we shape a shared vision.

When it comes to leadership, a persistent question continues to linger for those who study it in one form or another: Is leadership an innate attribute, or is it a capability that can be learned and honed over time? The response, as in many things in life, is not a simple binary.

In current Leadership studies, the accepted wisdom (at least for now) is that, at its core, Leadership is an intricate interplay of both inherent traits and acquired competencies. Each individual harbours leadership potential, the manifestation of which is dependent on a multitude of factors, including personal experiences, acquired skills, and the specific contexts in which they operate. This perspective reinforces the notion that leadership is not a monolithic construct but rather a dynamic and multifaceted process, practice or behaviour.

But not everything is rainbows and unicorns in the land of Leadership studies. There are counter currents aplenty. Some theorists propose that certain individuals are naturally predisposed to leadership, possessing an innate charisma and authority that cannot be taught. Conversely, others argue that leadership is entirely a learned skill, independent of one’s inherent traits. A more productive position is likely to reside in the intersection of these two perspectives (or at least within a range), with both innate characteristics and learned skills playing pivotal roles.

Other research suggests that self-efficacy and intrinsic motivation to lead can significantly bolster the development of leadership competencies. This underscores the role of self-perception and internal drive in shaping one’s leadership trajectory. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that these factors can be influenced by cultural and socio-political contexts. For instance, cultures that prioritise individualism may cultivate a stronger sense of self-efficacy, while those that emphasise collectivism might promote a different kind of leadership ethos.

Consider the narrative of an individual who, despite socio-economic obstacles, ascends to the role of CEO in a multinational corporation (think Ron Williams, CEO of Aetna). This narrative validates the proposition that leadership competencies can indeed be cultivated over time, contingent upon personal commitment and adherence to rigorous standards of excellence. However, it’s vital to recognise that such a journey may not even be in the lexicon of possibility in all socio-political contexts. Where there are rigid class structures or limited social mobility, for example, leadership potential may also be stifled.

Finally, leadership cannot simply be defined through the hierarchical position one occupies. It’s also about the choices we make to traverse an uncertain path with others towards a shared vision. And we must always be cognizant that our ability to walk that path, and the way in which we walk it is significantly influenced by our cultural and socio-political contexts. So whilst it may be true many of us are born with the capability to walk that path, it helps to understand the terrain and be equipped to learn and use the tools that may be most productive.


The Leadership Decanted Team

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