There are no mistakes, no coincidences. All events are blessings given to us to learn from. -Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
I was at my usual location a few Mondays ago, the airport. This time waiting for my flight from London to Sao Paolo, Brazil. As I was sitting in the frequent flyer lounge a gray-haired gentleman sat down at the table next to me. He was a few years older and looked like a curious combination of frequent traveller and college professor. Turned out it was a lucky guess on my part, because when I asked what he did for work, he replied he taught leadership at a university and was on his way back from a speaking engagement in London.
So, choice time! I could either say something nice and go back to my iPad where i was composing a new blog posting, or I could “fire for effect”. Surprise. I fired a single tracer round (honest, it wasn’t me, it was my evil twin).
“You can’t teach leadership! It can be learned, but it can’t be taught.”
His head shot up and he looked at me oddly, obviously not expecting anything but polite “stranger talk”. I grinned (always throws them off-balance). I could see his mind racing, obviously thinking to himself, should I engage with this nutcase or just move tables?
So for the next fifteen minutes, until we each rushed off towards different destinations, we had a conversation about leadership, something we both knew a little about; he from an academic viewpoint and me from years of consulting with CEOs on thorny leadership issues.
He was fascinating, with a mountain of research about what constitutes good and bad leadership. He told me he lectured on leadership in the hope of helping executives and others better understand what’s required when a person moves into a position of leadership. “There are so few good leadership role models out there today, especially in politics and public service,” he remarked. “It’s important we point out what good leadership looks like. And we have some excellent academic research to prove the point.”
He also understood my point of view. “Leadership can’t be taught, but it can be learned!” I spoke about the inner qualities of personal accountability, the inner drive to make a positive difference, about the courage to make the right decisions, not just the right political decisions. Without these inner ingredients, no amount of lecturing will take hold.
We shook hands and went our separate ways. He had given me a lot to think about on my long flight to Brazil. I suspect he carried some food for thought as well.
What’s your point of view on leadership education?
Tight Lines . . .
John R Childress