Can Leadership Be Learned?

Many people wonder: “Can leadership be learned?”. When leadership first became an area of study, people assumed that you were either born a leader or not. It was called “The Great Man Theory”. However, this theory no longer holds true. We now realize, and have for quite some time, that leadership can be taught.

This does not mean that people can’t be natural leaders. What it means is that even natural leaders who do not take time to study leadership will only go so far and either stop in their leadership development or start making mistakes that will be harmful to themselves and those around them. On the other hand, people who are not natural born leaders, but who spend the time learning how to lead, have the potential to become great leaders. So yes, leadership can be learned.

The bigger question is how to learn leadership. There are a number of sources out there which can help. Let’s examine these sources.

Keep Your Eyes Open

First, there are what I refer to as indirect sources. These are the types of books and media that do not teach leadership directly but have leadership components.

For example, you may be reading a biography of a famous person who has been a leader. You are not reading the biography for leadership tips; however, there may be some in there that catch your attention. Or, you could be watching a movie in which someone demonstrates how to lead well and you put these scenes in the back of your mind. A movie Invictus is one such example.

And, as we are talking about media, you can also watch real leaders in action; either on TV or on social media platforms such as YouTube or Twitter.

“Leaders aren’t born they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.” – Vince Lombardi

Observe Other Leaders

Now for the more direct ways of learning. The first way is learning through observation. If you know a good leader at work or in your community, watch them work. See how they interact with people. Listen to the words they use when speaking to others. Observe their non-verbals as they move about the office or within your setting. Also, pay attention to the way they are dressed.

Additionally, you can flip this around and watch poor leaders in action, so you can avoid their mistakes. I once observed a leader who presided over a formal awards dinner, while wearing a lumberjack shirt and khaki pants. True story. I learned a bit that day about how to present myself in front of an audience. This is the great thing about observing – you can learn without doing.

Seek Information from Others

Another way to learn about leadership is through conversations with others; especially other leaders. Greg and I have engaged in thousands of hours of conversation about leadership throughout the years. This was even before became instructors ourselves. These conversations have benefited us greatly as they influenced our leadership styles and taught us how to approach different situations.

Find that leader that you aspire to learn from and let them know your intentions. Say “Hey, can I take you for lunch so I can pick your brain about why you lead the way you do?” Or, more simply “Can you give me some tips on how to lead others?”. Whatever your approach, many good leaders will make time for you. They may be busy, so you may have to be flexible, but it’s definitely worth your time and effort.


Learn Online

Even before COVID-19 started impacting us worldwide, another form of learning has become more popular. This is online learning. With people spending more time at home, they want to pick up new skills and routinely turn to the Internet. You can take leadership courses online if your budget allows it.

I have done most of my entire Masters Program online, with focus is on Values-Based Leadership. Granted, this was a costly endeavor. There are certainly less expensive ways to learn leadership online and I am certain you could find something for a few hundred dollars. Of course, even a few hundred dollars can be a lot, depending on your situation. But there are less costly alternatives.

Seek Books for New Leaders

When spending money on learning leadership, it is important to get the best bang for your buck. When your income stream gets a little better, you can focus on expensive diploma courses, but this is not necessary at the beginning. Instead, look for books to learn from. You’ll find a lot of books about leadership on the market. Just be sure to narrow your search to books written specifically for new leaders. While those exist, they are much less common.

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” – John F. Kennedy

In fact, when Greg and I looked for such books to recommend to our young students, we were surprised to find that there was little information out there aimed specifically at new leaders to help them get started. It’s for that reason that we wrote How to Be a Leader – a book written specifically to help you learn what you need to know in your early leadership career and how to train it. For the price of a meal, you could be learning all you need to know in a matter of minutes.

Can Leadership Be Learned?

So, can leadership be learned? Our answer is a resounding yes. Regardless of your natural talents at leading others, you can learn to be a good leader. Just don’t delay and take action! Read a leader’s biography. Register for a course. Observe other leaders in action. Talk to them, when you get a chance. Or, for a sure way to get strong foundations in good leadership, read How to Be a Leader, by Gregory Bobkiewicz and John Maloney.

John Maloney
John Maloney is a leadership instructor, a life coach and a contributing writer at Online Leadership Network. He has over 22 years of experience as a front line staff, team leader and program coordinator at a large non-profit organization, as well as a Masters Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with focus on Leadership in the 21st Century.


  1. HI, thank you for this encouraging answer. I know that as many other things in life, leadership takes time and we cannot expect to become leaders all of a sudden. But if we’re devoted to learning by researching and analyzing what leaders do, it’s just a matter of time. Now, with more energy I’ll work at this.


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