Can Leadership Be Taught?

Can Leadership Be Taught?

This is an old question, even a hackneyed one. Many might say that research and experience over the past decade or two demonstrate that leadership is far better learned than taught. On-the-job – and its first cousins action, experiential, and community learning – are held in the highest regard. The 70:20:10 model has long been this concept’s best known exponent. (We believe in it at Kotter International.) The “70″ refers to learning within the workflow; the “20″ refers to social learning (coaching, mentoring); the “10″ to formal skill development programs.

Deemed the most impactful, workflow learning is rewarded the greatest proportion. But the very fluidity of the 21st-century workday – with all of its sudden dams and deltas – makes intentional, mindful learning within it difficult for most organizations to channel. And then there’s the stiffer challenge of embedding this learning mode in how a company operates on a daily basis.

Because effective coaching relies so heavily on an individual’s particular skills and mindset and is typically delivered one-on-one, it is resistant to scale. An organization’s coaching is only as good as each individual that practices it.

It is only in recent years when I have been heavily involved with companies that have made bold, lasting commitments to the 70 and 20 that I truly understand the plight and importance of developing leaders in the classroom.

But before examining the 10, I suggest that we set the blog title question in 2014 conditions. Change has become the universal business context, the sea in which we all swim or sink. So, learning how to lead change is an obligatory, indispensable skill. And because the hallmarks of change are pervasiveness and speed, the skill is now required at all levels of an organization. All hands on deck.

Still holding off on the 10, what is the real question behind the blog title? To me, it is: What motivates people to change? As Professor John Kotter has so often written, the most effective leaders know how and when to appeal to peoples’ heads and hearts: it’s all about balance. This is never so important as when change is the order of the day or year – or era.

Adherents to the 70 know that an individual’s desire to lead change manifests itself best when he or she is doing real work in real time – often with others – on initiatives connected to the organization’s mission, values and strategy. The business reason for the change (i.e., the appeal to the head) provides the direction, but the hearts provide the motivation. The 20 also uses this fuel: the most successful coaches rely on their ability to make and keep a personal connection to an individual’s or team’s emotions and beliefs.

We can understand why workflow learning supported by coaching gets the lion’s share of the 70:20:10. This, however, is where the case for the 10 comes in. The face-to-face classroom setting is structured to engage the head by providing (literally) set and bounded space and time for intellectual focus, discussion, debate and reflection. I’m using “classroom” as a broad term to capture the concept of bounded time and space. By design and regardless of physical location, instructors teach participants and participants teach each other.

Source: Forbes / Gregory LeStage

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