Is Leadership Learnable?

Leadership Blog  |  4 minute read

Bella Blazewicz

Written by Bella Blazewicz

Is Leadership Learnable?

When you look at some of the most respected or successful leaders of the world, it’s easy to assume they were born for the role. 

Whether it’s Jacinda Ardern (now resigned Prime Minister of New Zealand), Angel Locsin (Filipina actress who tirelessly uses her influence to spur goodwill activities) or Ambassador Dr. John N. Nkengasong (previously Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, now AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Health Diplomacy for Biden administration), these trailblazers often appear to emit a presence of leadership that goes beyond what can be learned through books or coaching. Either you’ve got it, or you haven’t. But is leadership really inborn, or can anyone learn this gift?


Leadership is in the eye of the led


It’s probably no secret that we at AB believe great leaders are not born with everything they need for the task. We believe it is a learned skill – just as any virtuoso musician or artist is a product of their experience and learning, so it is with leaders. But it would be an incorrect assumption to say there is no element of natural talent at play.

However, a lot of what we see as a natural aptitude for leadership is in fact cultural, shaped by the qualities we value. If you were to transport some of the most highly-regarded leaders of the 1920s and bring them to now, they would likely fall short of the mark in our eyes. 

It doesn’t take an age for the values we associate with leadership to change either. It wasn’t that long ago that we praised leaders who were assertive to the point of brash – they got the job done! However, in 2023, empathy is the order of the day. In a few years again we might have another criteria altogether. For leaders who appear to have an inborn gift, one factor might be good fortune – their natural personality matches up with contemporary values.

But nature is only a small part of the equation. Leaders aren’t made on personality or temperament alone. 

Leadership is also about how you can take people with you, how you inspire them, invite them to follow and empower them to reach far beyond what they currently think possible. It’s the people – as well as the impact you make on them – that will determine what kind of leader you are.

And crucially, the ability to do that can be taught.


Building a transformative mindset


Whilst technical competencies developed through management training are important, we propose that it’s mindset that’s really the deciding factor. 

To cultivate great leadership, you need to be able to articulate what your people value the most, and this to be aligned authentically with what you value the most. When this exists, these values will ripple out from you, affecting everyone you influence. 

But to do this you need an awareness of your values and have absolute and accurate awareness of any dissonance between your mindset and your values. Learning to be a leader is a transformative process – one that brings you to confront the context of your biases and intrinsic values, and to challenge your current ways of thinking.

Transforming how you think might sound nebulous, perhaps even out of reach. But it’s not about changing everything you think overnight. It’s about choosing to become more aware of your context and the ways you interpret situations differently to others.

It’s also about keeping a growth mindset for yourself as well as your direct reports. We build our frames of reference over the course of a lifetime, and uncoupling that context from the situation at hand is a steep challenge. But to be a great leader you need to believe in your own potential to build on that foundation of self-awareness, commit to always be learning and continually transform your thinking. 


Choose to embrace the challenge


It’s not easy to overhaul our thoughts, feelings and contexts. Humans aren’t computers that can simply install a new operating system when it needs updating. But we do have agency over our behaviour and how we choose to interact and lead within our context.

Leadership starts with having a strong curiosity about the context we are in and how we function within it. Leadership manifests when we can effectively connect and articulate what and who we authentically are with what others need, and take action in line with a clear outcome of what we value, and the context in which we find ourselves.

Leadership appears as being open and committed to continually building awareness of how we think and act in the context of a team, organisation, vision, and world. Our willingness to be open to an ever-changing contextual landscape, connecting this authentically with our values and making the changes needed to serve a greater outcome or ‘breakthrough’.

Our context and our mindset define the action we take. Actively choosing to be aware expands our choice, and it is key to understanding what your team needs from a leader. Once you’re aware, you can begin unhooking yourself from your assessments, or letting go of background commitments, or re-evaluating how your mood defines you as a leader.

Ultimately, awareness fosters curiosity – and lays down all the foundations you need to build other technical leadership competencies.

Looking to create an impossible future? Get in touch to explore how we can help you ignite your ambitions.


Published 20/04/2023

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