You can't 'learn' leadership

May 02. 2013 11:00AM - Last modified: May 02. 2013 11:12AM

Dick Cross

Over the past decade, a single topic has dominated business sections in bookstores: leadership.

Dick Cross. Photo/Submitted

But has it done any good? My hunch: likely not, and it's done maybe more harm than good. Because leadership isn't something your can "learn" like golf. It's not a new outfit you can put on. Or even new words and practices you adopt and use -- even though they may characterize others who've done it well.

"How-to" prescriptions for leadership actually divert attention from the seed at its core.

Because leadership is an "inside job." It's not about how you act, what you say or what you know. Nor is it about how the sum of those appearances plays on the outside.

Rather, it's about who you are. On the inside.

As proof, great leaders come in all wrappings, with the most effective often appearing like the least and never having read any of the "seven keys to leadership success" drivel.

Take Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, one of the most celebrated heroes of the Civil War. He defended Little Round Top at Gettysburg, with a hopelessly outnumbered force of Mainers, turning the tide of the battle and winning the Congressional Medal of Honor.

He was a studious college professor with no prior military experience -- one of the least likely.

Or, more recently, Russell Wilson. The Seattle Seahawks rookie quarterback, drafted as a backup, has raised the spirit of the entire Seattle organization to new heights, in the locker room and on the field. A humble, reserved young man who refuses interviews unless he's wearing a coat and tie, already with the followership of a hall of famer.

How did they do it? It's because of who they are. Anchored in a rock-solid internal sense of duty. With an obsession to live up to it. Putting everything else secondary to their fundamental allegiance to what they believe is right. And their destiny.

You can get there, too. It may require sacrifice of time and mind space. But if you care enough about being great at what you do -- leading your organization from your Job At The Top to greatness -- you won't be able to come in second place.


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