Can Leadership Be Taught?


“Is leadership an innate capability or one that can be taught?” This is a question I hear frequently asked.  The wide range of opinions on this topic is fascinating, and it is the inspiration for today’s Karen Gately blog. Join in the conversation!

I believe that leadership can and should be taught. I also believe there are undoubtedly those who have the ability to become great leaders and those who can learn to make a solid contribution to the success of both organisations and communities.  Working with leaders at different stages of their careers and development I have observed that people can grow and learn; the most important ingredients to success are having both the desire to do so and great teachers to show the way.

A non-negotiable prerequisite on the journey of learning to be a leader is a desire to lead. In my experience, some people simply don’t want to take on a leadership role and are therefore unlikely to learn or do the things they need to in order to be effective. Equally important is learning in an environment where strength of leadership truly matters.  Lots of organisations ‘talk the talk’ but there is often a lack of investment in development and an absence of accountability for ineffective leadership practices.  A supportive and accountable environment plays a key role in motivating and enabling up-and-coming leaders to stretch outside of their comfort zone and learn the lessons they must to become great leaders of the future.

If leadership can’t be taught then sadly I believe our world is in bigger trouble than we realise.  The harmony, prosperity and development of communities all around the globe depend on effective local leadership. While leadership is not just about business, it is true that the actions and decisions of business leaders have a very real impact on the communities within which they operate and ultimately on their society as a whole.  While I accept that some are born natural leaders, I don’t believe there are enough of those people in the world to get the job done, which instead demands a focus and investment in developing greater leadership strength.

I encourage you to invest the 20 minutes it will take to listen to a talk given by Patrick Awuah at a TED conference in 2007.  After working at Microsoft for almost a decade, Patrick returned home to Ghana and co-founded Ashesi University, a small liberal arts college that aims to educate Africa’s next generation of leaders. In this inspiring and insightful talk, Patrick describes leaders of many kinds as guardians of society and presents an undeniable argument on the critical importance of developing leaders.

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One thought on “Can Leadership Be Taught?

  1. Yes, leadership can be taught! What Patrick Awuah has done in 10 short years at Ashesi University is the best example I know of this fact. [A more up-to-date (2011) video on the history of his founding of this new university in Ghana can be found at
    [http://www.zeitgeistminds.com/videos/spirit-of-the-time-patrick-awuah-at-zeitgeist-americas-2011.]
    My wife and I attended the inauguration of Ashesi’s permanent campus in August this year, and had the opportunity to talk with several current students and alumni. We were simply blown away by their commitment to becoming the ethical leaders of tomorrow’s Ghana (with emphasis on the word “ethical”). Their goal may be too narrow. Thirty years from now we will probably find these young men and women in leadership positions on the entire African continent and around the world. My only regret is that, at age 73, I will probably not live to see that happen.

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