Can Leadership Be Taught?

July 30th, 2020 | 5 minute read

The question we get asked time and time again – can leadership be taught? Our experience tells us so. We have worked with leaders and leadership teams all over the world and experienced amazing transformations. From transitioning completely dysfunctional leadership teams to completely aligned, fully functioning ones; to one to one executive coaching with leaders with completely disengaged teams, to having them transition to rank as the best leaders in the business, through to managers with no experience, becoming highly impactful, respected leaders.

This question “can leadership be taught” got us thinking. Obviously there are a lot of foundational elements that go into leadership and management training, but of all of the leaders we have successfully trained, there is one common theme in the best – they take the time to understand the fears that drive their behaviour.

So, can leadership be taught? Only if you take time to understand, and work on, your core fears to manage the negative impact they may have on your leadership. 

We all have fears, some more than others, some bigger than others. They all impact how we behave and what we bring to the table. Often these fears then drive limiting beliefs, or cause us to subconsciously self sabotage. 

Understanding the fear(s) that may be subconsciously driving you as a leader, can hugely impact how effective you are.

Because fear simmers on a subconscious level, we often don’t see how much it impacts how we behave – this is where it is most dangerous.

Fear impacts everything you do. From how you lead your team; how you interact with fellow leaders; how you manage change; to how you make decisions. Once you understand what is underneath your fear(s), and identify the triggers, your leadership will become more effective.

Could a Fear of Poor Performance be Impacting your Leadership Ability?

Let’s look at an example to bring this to life. A common fear within leaders, is the fear of poor performance, or not acheiving.

When you are hyper focussed on the next achievement and have a fear around poor performance nothing ever feels like it is enough. You can feel like you are constantly pushing for success each success and accomplishment, but when you achieve something is just part of the next step on the journey. You may even fear people not seeing you as a success so look to prove yourself to those around you. If performance is your main source of worthiness then you may hide and not attempt something that is outside of your comfort zone incase you fail and lose your sense of accomplishment either with yourselves, or others.

By staying stuck in the fear, often, we drive the very thing we fear. By being stuck in the fear of poor performance, it is likely that you are self sabotaging higher levels of performance and stopping yourself reach your full potential.

Are you Proving or Hiding?

Through our leadership work, we help leaders uncover the fears and limiting beliefs that may be holding them back. Although we can’t cover all of the key elements in this post, there is one really useful technique that you can use to spot when you are operating out of fear (even if you don’t know what the fear is).

In his book “Figure out that Shift”, Chris McAllister talks about two indictors that demonstrate you are operating from a place of fear. These are called proving, and hiding.

When you are proving, you are trying to prove something to either yourself, or others. This can be in the boardroom, with your team, at home, as a parent. Whatever the situation – you are ultimately trying to prove something because subconsciously you’re afraid it isn’t true.

When hiding, you retreat from a situation, often diminishing who you are. This can stop you from really going for something, and results in you hiding, not stepping outside of your comfort zone for fear of failing, or negative consequences.

Understand your Fears and Manage their Impact

Understanding your core fear(s), and the impact they may be having, is one of the most important things you can do as a leader. Once you understand your fear(s), you can consciously work on managing them.

  1. Notice if you are more prone to proving or hiding? Typically you will revert to one. If you are highly proactive it is likely you will do more proving. If you are more cautious, considered and analytical you will normally default more to hiding.
  2. Next time you find yourself proving or hiding, stop and notice what fear might be driving this. Is there a common theme for you?
  3. Learn to press the pause button. To re-train your brain you have to be able to step back and look at something objectively.

If you think fear may be kicking, before you respond look at whether your actions or behaviour could be coming from a place of fear. Ask yourself:

“Am I responding to this from a place of fear and looking to prove something to myself, or others? Or am I hiding from my true potential for fear of negative consequences?” 

If the answer is yes, look at things objectively. Ask yourself:

“If I came at this from a place of security, where I know my worth as a leader isn’t dictated by the outcome of this – what might I do next?”

Next Steps

Your mind is designed to be re-trained. By practicing the re-adjustment techniques we outlined above, you can start overcoming fear.

In the meantime, if you would like to know more about your fears or limiting beliefs as a leader, please reach out.  We cover this as one of the first modules in all of our leadership programmes.


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