Can Leadership Be Learnt

In this issue I explore a contrarian view from that taken by Pulitzer-Prize winner David Halberstam’s article in the recent issue of Fast Company. In “The Greatness That Cannot Be Taught”, Halberstam explores the recent slew of ‘ leadership’ seminars, books et al being churned out in the USA. In particular, he looks at the more high profile ones written by or presented by the giants of American sports or industry. He thinks that no one can be like another Lee Iaccoca or maybe some other great football coach. In addition, he thinks the skills are not readily transferable.

He writes:

“…..So if leadership can’t be taught or transferred, how do you foster it? Where do you find leaders, and how do you create them? The truth is that in most fields, it’s a natural process. Leaders are men and women who have chosen the right profession. They’re good at it, and because they’re good at it, they like it, and because they like it, they’re even better at it. They’re so good at it that they’d rather work than play. They’re naturals, and excelling comes naturally as well. They’ve understood their field from the start, and they’ve studied it without even knowing they’ve studied it. They could look around from the day they joined an organization and understand the talents of those who went before them, understand the people around them, and know when and just how hard to push them.”

Unfortunately , this hardly the kind of news companies wish to receive. For most, the concept of leadership is one that is very desirable to have but difficult to attain; and if it can’t be taught, how can it be learned?

I offer a structured solution out of Halberstam’s viewpoint and position. In any field, if you are Passionate about something, you will Practice it more, and then you will become Proficient at it. This is the cornerstone of motivation-led success. The challenge is to effectively recruit people into your organisation who share that view. Singaporean entrepreneur Kenny Yap, who has built an empire out of the ornamental fish business, once said he’d prefer to recruit a far less educated person into his business who shared a passion for rearing fish, rather than a multiple degree holder who only viewed the job as a ‘ job’. Passion counts. With passion, come commitment, and with commitment, all things are possible ; including having the right mental map for leadership ( in all its forms ).

Second, by Practising leadership, a leader needs to model himself after the best habits of the best leaders in his context. This means an informal or possible semiformal study of what exactly the appropriate leader in his/her industry does. This can go down to a micro -level to see how a leader builds trust and rapport using the subtlest speech and body language patterns, to exactly how they respond to each type of situation . The fields of cognitive behaviour and neuro- linguistics programming study how we structure our experience of the world around us through ( largely ) linguistics i.e. speech patterns and how this is reflected in our mind-body behaviours. By benchmarking patterns of the best leadership behaviour. But this just scratches the surface since classic NLP studies have not captured well enough the deeper coding that we all have a humans.

There’s an even more effective of way of replicating leadership success – and that is the study and practice of leader’s higher states of mind; i.e. layered frameworks of how we think and react to things; and give meaning to them. This new area of neuro-semantics, as developed by Dr L.Michael Hall explores our not only our thoughts ( basic NLP ) but our thoughts about our thoughts; our higher frames of mind – which drive our internal coding in how we respond to the world. In short, we can now begin to give structure to our deepest programmes – created by experience, cultural, spiritual and social influences. These concepts are embodied in my First Steps Leadership and Leadership Risk and Challenge programmes.

Think of it as this way: If we can begin to understand what a great leader ( in the context we wish to be in )does that is so compelling and effective, we can apply these mind-body structures to ourselves to achieve a similar level of Proficiency. We begin to play the Game of Leadership.

So while leadership is tough to ‘teach’, it can be learned powerfully by observing ferociously the kind of coding, mind-body states that great leaders apply to themselves ( often unknowingly ) to achieve their level of greatness – and then apply these to ourselves to raise our game.