Leadership is learned, not taught

While recently at an industry conference, I became involved in a discussion among a group of senior-level property management professionals centering around teaching “good leadership” to new managers.

It was an interesting conversation for several reasons . . . but mostly because the overriding sentiment seemed to be that it is more challenging in today’s environment to motivate and inspire upcoming managers toward strong leadership characteristics – integrity, tenacity, intestinal fortitude, open-mindedness, visionary thinking, humility and generosity of spirit, to name just a few. The big question was, “how do we teach promising managers to demonstrate leadership traits?”

It’s a great question. My take on it is a little different, because what we’re really talking about are behaviors – and the best way to learn a behavior is to observe it. It’s like Mom always said : Be a good example, obey the golden rule, and best of all, “I don’t care what Johnny down the street is allowed to do.” In other words, good (and great) leadership is something that we learn best from seeing good leadership in action, and staying true what we know is right.

I remember as a young manager reading Stephen Covey’s “Principle-Centered Leadership” and being really wowed by the different types of leadership he discussed in this book — and vowing to strive toward the “highest” level of leadership as I progressed in my career. I still consider that book to be one of the greatest, most profound reads of my business career; and believe me, I’m still striving toward that long-ago set goal. And although I certainly credit Covey’s book for introducing me to some very important principles that I took to heart, the fact that I was also fortunate enough to work for some truly wonderful leaders in my early career was no doubt the single most impactful ingredient of my personal development.

I’m reminded by this leadership conversation that the absolute best, most effective way to “teach” leadership is to be the best possible leader; to be consistent, to be real, to strive constantly to learn and grow (especially from others), to take a few risks, and above all to be humble in all things.