Can Leadership be Learned?

Published on May 13, 2019 – Roberta Chinsky Matuson, Strategic Advisor | Consultant | Executive Coach | Public Speaker | Talent Maximizer®

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Last week’s Wall Street Journal featured a full-page story on a course for undergrads: How to Be a Boss 101. Launched in January, “How to Be the Boss” is full of practical lessons aimed at building better managers. What’s interesting to note is that this course is focused on undergraduates, as opposed to graduate students who often have work experience. This move is intentional.

The professor of this course, Peter Cappelli and others in the business world have picked up on a trend, that I too noted. As more young people graduate and move into jobs at technology companies and consulting firms, they are finding themselves suddenly in charge. This situation will become even more common, as organizations fight to survive in one of the worst talent crunches in history. Those who show up for work on time and have decent communications skills will be anointed leader. Scary, right? You bet!

Comments were immediately posted on the WSJ inferring that a school like UPenn Wharton School of Business has lost their mind (and their edge) by teaching such nonsense, while I applauded Wharton’s bold move.

Like many of today’s newly minted managers, I too was suddenly in charge. At the age of 24, I was tossed into a leadership role with little more than a prayer. I did a ton of damage along the way, that may have been avoided had leadership been taught at the undergrad level where I attended school.

Here’s why I believe leadership should be taught at every college and university and in every major.

  1. If people knew how hard it is to lead, they’d think twice before accepting a leadership role. That’s a good thing, as not everyone is cut out to be a leader.
  2. You can never be too educated in terms of leadership. Learning this at a young age will help to inspire tomorrow’s leaders to be lifetime learners.
  3. People might stop giving their leaders such a hard time, if they had a better sense of how difficult it is to be a manager. This would result in more peaceful and productive workplaces.
  4. People quit their bosses. If there were better bosses in the workplace, more employees would stick around. Employee turnover costs organizations a ton of money. Don’t believe me? 

It may be too late for many, who’ve attended college, to participate in a class like this. And if we’re being realistic here, not everyone can get in or afford to attend a school like Wharton.

Luckily there are other ways to acquire this knowledge. Read books on this topic (you might find my book, Suddenly in Charge to be of interest) or articles like this one to bolster your understanding. Make it a point to attend a few leadership tracks at the next conference you visit. Find a coach or a mentor to guide you through the everyday realities of leading at work.

Leadership is a skill that can be learned. If I can do it, so can you!

© 2019, Matuson Consulting.