Can Leadership Be Taught?

July 29, 2008 at 6:45 am (Leadership) (, , , , , )

There is a great debate that’s been taking place for years.  Possibly longer.  Decades, centuries, millinia?  In my last assignment, I was assaged constantly to grow a leadership team, to scale my efforts, and this would guarantee success.  Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the market: we weren’t able to grow our team.

Now, here’s the caveat, we were working with all volunteers (except me), in a hostile environment, with great baggage and social pressure for people to NOT join our team.  But all of my superiors, each of my mentors, and the various coaches we employed, were telling me that I could grow these people into leaders.  If I didn’t, it was mere failure on my part to be a good leader.

So, I read books, listened to my coach, attended seminars and lectures and conferences, and generally sought out all the resources I could muster.  But alas, after five years of hard work, I was not able to turn the tide.

We had been able to attract some hard working people to our team.  They were dedicated to the project, committed to the vision (even when they didn’t always get it), and extremely loyal to me, their leader.  I worked hard to break paradigms and instill values that would enable my core team to be leaders like me.  I pushed, I pulled, I nudged, and I led – all to no avail.

The bottom line is, they didn’t want to be leaders.  They didn’t know how to be leaders.  They were too scared to step into any place of leadership.  Oh they tried.  Their loyalty to me,  coupled with their strong work ethic, made them put in the 110% it takes to push to a new level.  But, like I said, they just didn’t want it bad enough.

Meanwhile, I was getting a lot of heat to shape these folks into leaders.  And like any good dysfunctional co-dependent, I pushed my people to be better leaders.  The more pressure they felt, the more afraid they were to make decisions or screw up.

A few months ago, my brother-in-law, who is a self-made successful CEO of his own enterprise, said something interesting.  He told me he wasn’t interested in scaling.  This isn’t the man I knew seven years ago – the one who wanted to grow big enough to own his own jet.  Nope, this is the married five years, soon to be dad, approaching 40 years old man of new faith.

I asked him about this.  It was quite fascinating to me, because I had come to appreciate similar thinking in my new endeavor.  I’m no longer interested in saving the world and leaving a lasting legacy.  I see now that if I do my job well and focus on the task at hand, the rest of the pieces will fall into place.  If it grows, that’s fine, but if it doesn’t, at least we can have quality.

I can’t make leaders, but I can work with the ones already on my team.  Right now, what I see are a bunch of hard working administrators and doers that are hungry for vision and leadership.  And that’s what I have to offer, realistic vision, and solid leadership.

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