When is Leadership Taught Versus Learned

May 31, 2023
# min read
Doug Brown

Discussing the distinction between when leadership is learned versus when it's taught is fascinating. It isn't always clear-cut, but here are some broad examples:

How Leadership Can Be Learned: 

• Through Observation and Reflection: Watching other leaders can be a powerful learning tool. Consciously observe the nuances of a great boss, a coach, a teacher, or other leader in action. Read about or study the lives of successful leaders to gain additional valuable insights. Reflecting on these observations and integrating them into one's leadership style is essential to the learning process.

• Through Experience: Leadership skills are often learned in real-life situations,whether in a work environment, volunteer organization, sports team or any other group setting where someone takes charge. Cases that involve dealing with conflict, making difficult decisions, and navigating complex interpersonal dynamics can be particularly illuminating. Ultimately it comes down to how effectively each specific situation gets handled, which determines one's effectiveness in the role.

Understanding when to apply which skills and what knowledge is why leadership has to be learned and internalized. It would be nearly impossible to write out every application one may encounter in a lifetime.  

When Leadership Can Be Taught:

• In Formal Education: Specific leadership skills can be taught in a classroom, often as part of a business or management curriculum. Coursework and lectures could involve learning about leadership theories, studying case studies, and discussing hypothetical scenarios.

• Through Training and Development Programs: Many organizations offer leadership development programs that combine coursework, mentoring, and practical experience. These programs can help participants develop their skills and background knowledge.

• Through Coaching and Mentoring: Many individuals can benefit from coaching or mentoring. A coach or mentor can provide personalized feedback and advice, helping their mentee to refine their leadership skills and navigate specific challenges.

These examples highlight that learning and teaching leadership often occur concurrently and continuously. Many influential leaders decide to keep learning throughout their lives, from formal education and training to practical experience and personal reflection.

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