Pop Quiz: Can You Teach Me Leadership?

Two things wrong with a good portion of what I see on the web on leadership:

photo by lumart on flickr

  1. You can’t teach me leadership. We’re different people. What works for you — or somebody else, some prominent successful person — is specific to who you are, your styles, your background, your instincts. Look at some great leaders: they’re all different. So are you, and so am I.
  2. Position doesn’t make anybody a leader. Being named CEO or president or c-level officer or VP gives you authority (presumably) and responsibility (we hope). Being in charge doesn’t turn the wrong person right.

And here’s the good news (maybe):

  1. Talking of leadership, showing examples, and lessons in leadership might still be useful. They are to me, at least. They’re reminders of things I know, or feel, but forget.
  2. Thinking and reflection are good when they happen, if they help people remind each other who they want to be, how they want to behave.
  3. Clichés get to be clichés for a reason. Call it resonance. Relating leadership to vision, listening, empathy, and so forth probably helps everybody do it, in their own way, but better. Reminders are good.

So you can’t teach me. I can’t teach you. But maybe we can remind each other.

(photo credit: lumaxart via photopin cc)


  • Curt Buermeyer says:

    Hey Tim,

    Bad leaders can definitely become great leaders. That we know. HOW they develop to become great is complex and more multifaceted than leadership “gurus” acknowledge.

    You’re absolutely right to make the distinction between positional power/role definitions of leadership vs. actually thinking and behaving like a leader, irrespective of role or title.

    Because the definitions of leadership are all over the place, there is a lot of confusion out there. We judge leaders based on “who they are” sometimes, but other times we judge on outcomes. For example, some “great leaders” are inspirational, smart, charismatic, etc., but don’t get results. Others get great results, but nobody wants to work for them. Who’s the better leader? (I believe you have to do both…get results, and have a positive impact on people.)

    For me, REAL leadership combines components of 1) who you are (everybody and every leader is unique), 2) how you behave (walk the talk), 3) your impact on people (do people want to follow you?), and 4) your results (do you win the game).

    Bottom line, people can “learn” to develop in all four of these areas, and thus, can become better leaders. (So hey, I can teach you. Ha!)


    • Tim Berry says:

      Thanks Curt. On people can become better leaders, I think you’re right. Bad leaders can definitely become great leaders? Not so much. Bad to not so bad, maybe even bad to good.

      I wonder if the content of the vision makes a difference. You point out that others get great results but nobody wants to work for them. Is there a vision factor, believing in something that inspired others? But there I go again, looking for generalizations.

      So you probably could teach me, by reminding me what I believe, on the day-by-day when it’s harder to stay true.


  • Daria Steigman says:

    Hi Tim,

    I agree with you at a broad level: people either are “leaders” or they are not. Clearly you cannot transform who has no leadership qualities into someone who can lead people anywhere.

    I do think, however, that people can become better leaders. And they are learning that somewhere and/or somehow. I know that I learned a lot about how to bring people together and how to build consensus from watching people who did this really well and identifying the things that I could adopt to work for me. (Oddly, a couple were “leaders” and at least one was not — but had some good, practical business skills that early on I picked up from watching her).

    Hmm… maybe I’m making your point for you. You’ve definitely offered some good food for thought.

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