Can Leadership Be Taught? (With Definition and Strategies)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 11 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Leaders are valuable members of organisations as they provide strategic direction to employees or teams and support them to achieve specific objectives. Companies often consider different individuals' leadership capabilities when seeking people to occupy leadership positions. Understanding if leadership can be taught can help you position yourself or others for consideration when an institution is evaluating individuals to fill leadership posts. In this article, we define leadership, explain whether leadership can be taught, highlight leadership attributes, outline the steps for teaching leadership and provide strategies to use when teaching leadership.

Can leadership be taught?

The question 'Can leadership be taught?' can arise when considering whether leaders are born or made. A young individual's traits, behaviour or values can indicate if they can become an effective adult leader. For example, people that show leadership signals or indicators at an early age can easily grasp taught leadership and lead others well. These individuals are more likely to learn or acquire the talent for leadership than other people.

What is leadership?

Leadership is the process by which executives can direct, influence and guide the work and behaviour of other people towards the accomplishment of defined goals in a given situation. Managers with leadership qualities can induce subordinates to work confidently. Leaders can use their vision to steer organisations and motivate employees to pursue the vision. Leadership has these unique characteristics:

  • It's an inter-personal process where a manager influences and guides employees toward attaining goals.

  • Leadership is situation bound. Each leadership style can suit specific situations.

  • It denotes that an individual has some qualities like maturity, intelligence and personality.

  • A leader moulds and shapes the group's behaviour toward accomplishing organisational goals.

  • It's a group process, as it involves two or more individuals engaging each other.

Read more: What Is Leadership? (With Key Elements of Leadership)

Leadership attributes

Here are some qualities that can show that an individual can learn leadership:

Communication

Communication is an essential component of leadership. It can help leaders communicate their vision to team leaders and members. Leaders may also use their communication competencies to choose communication channels, interpret nonverbal cues and process feedback. Some individuals are nurtured from a young age to be excellent communicators, but communication exceeds one's ability to speak fluently. People seeking leadership positions can improve their communication skills through practice.

Related: What Is Leadership Communication? (Definition and Examples)

Teamwork

Leaders may require the ability to work effectively within a team and the personality traits necessary to lead a team. You can improve your teamwork capabilities over time. The more experience you have working with teams, the more you can understand each team member's motivations, capacity and values. You can use this understanding to promote teamwork and engage them to achieve organisational objectives. Some individuals can delegate instructions and unite people quickly, but others enhance their teamwork competencies through practice.

Related: Leadership Skills: Definitions and Examples

Influence

Influence is the ability to convince people through emotional, logical and cooperative appeals. Leaders may require influence to urge teams to follow them. Team members can regard an influential leader highly and follow the leader's advice. A leader's influence over a team can grow over time. Some individuals can influence people from a young age, while others can increase their influence by learning strategies to enhance their logical, cooperative and emotional appeals. These strategies may include being transparent and building trust.

Empathy

Empathy is one's ability to notice and understand other people's emotions or feelings. Leaders require empathy to lead teams effectively. They can use this competency to discern employees' feelings and provide the necessary guidance, helping employees maximise their potential. A leader can display empathy from a young age. Other leaders can develop empathy by learning how to notice indicators of various feelings of employees.

Read more: What's Empathy in Leadership? (Plus Importance and Steps)

How to teach leadership

Many companies teach leadership with these stages:

1. Identify participants

The organisation can identify potential participants for the leadership training. These participants may include individuals in specific departments or people showing leadership qualities. It may also include people that know the company's culture or those that have been in the organisation for a specific period, like over 10 years. Some companies may also have regular leadership training that targets individuals that other leaders identify within the organisation. Other institutions can recruit individuals from outside the company for leadership training.

2. Determine participants' leadership capabilities

Evaluate the chosen participants to determine their leadership capabilities. The trainers may ascertain the participants' strengths and improvement areas. Determining their capacity can help the organisation tailor the training to suit their needs. For example, they can group individuals as per their training needs. The company can also develop a training programme that suits their requirements. For example, they can prioritise the specific areas the participants can improve on.

3. Implement the training programme

Implementing the leadership training programme can involve various approaches. For example, the teaching can involve coursework, practicals and shadowing other leaders. The organisation can also request respected leaders to mentor the potential leaders. Participants can have joint trainings at the start before separating to prioritise the specific areas they can improve. Quick learners can take weeks or months to increase their leadership capabilities significantly, while others may require months or years.

4. Assess the progress

Assess the participants' progress to determine whether the leadership training is effective. The organisation can evaluate the candidates' progress by providing an examination, giving them small teams to lead or asking professionals to evaluate them. Individuals that show significant leadership development can complete the course and occupy leadership vacancies when they arise. People who require improvement can continue undertaking the leadership training until the company feels they've reached the required level or their strengths are better suited elsewhere.

Strategies for teaching leadership to employees

Organisations can use various strategies when teaching leadership to employees. Here are the strategies they can use:

Get strong leaders to teach

Companies can use individuals who are great leaders themselves to teach other employees about leadership. These teachers can inspire employees to be excellent leaders. They also know what it takes to be an exceptional leader and can guide employees well. Using their leadership competencies, like empathy and influence, can also help them maximise the leadership training's impact.

Inspire employees

Ascertaining what encourages employees is essential when teaching them leadership. Some factors that can encourage employees are mastery, autonomy and purpose in the workplace. They may prefer to feel trusted, have a purpose and be confident when using skills or tools to do their jobs. Inform them on how leadership can fulfil these needs to encourage them to learn and embrace leadership.

Have an open culture

Company culture can be a crucial component of the organisation's identity, which helps the company develop a loyal customer base. The company culture is also an integral part of the company's values, and strong values can give organisations the foundation for teaching leadership. The institution may require an open, honest and innovative company culture to teach leadership. Employees may share their thoughts, know what to expect and enhance creativity through leadership, encouraging them to become leaders.

Related: What Is Organisational Culture? (With Types and Tips)

Challenge employees

The company can reveal and enhance leadership qualities among employees by challenging them. For example, the organisation's leadership can assign crucial projects, new assignments and big accounts to employees to help them practise their leadership capabilities. These initiatives can bring out employees' leadership capabilities and encourage them to thrive. The company can have a rotational programme that allows employees to experience different roles in the workplace. This rotation can help employees find the areas they enjoy and learn what it takes to lead. Management may also use this programme to identify the areas that each employee can thrive in.

Earn employees' trust

The company can teach leadership by first building trust in the workplace. One-on-one coaching can be an essential approach to teaching leadership. Employees can embrace this programme fully and follow the trainer's advice when they know they can trust the organisation and the teacher. The employees can approach the company's officials or leadership coaches with questions and accept their criticism because they know the review can help them improve.

Prioritise soft skills

Soft skills are essential competencies for leaders. Interpersonal skills or soft skills are proficiencies that help leaders engage stakeholders like shareholders, board of management, team leaders, team members, employees and clients. Leaders may require soft skills like teamwork, communication, customer service and conflict management to perform their duties. Prioritising these competencies enables the organisation to develop essential skills to help employees be excellent leaders.

Related: Soft Skills: Definition, Examples and Tips

Contact professionals

The organisation can seek professional help to teach leadership. Some organisations can provide experienced leadership coaches to help companies or individuals enhance leadership qualities. These institutions may have reliable programmes and approaches that have maximum impact.

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