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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler

Can leadership be taught?

Not until the 19th century was a serious effort made to train people for leadership roles. Unsurprisingly this occurred mainly in military circles. Sandhurst in Britain and West Point in The States were both set up in1802.

Previous centuries believed that there were born leaders, quite literally in hereditary monarchies, or that leaders learned on the job, the Sink or Swim theory of leadership.

Although such approaches and views are still held in some quarters of our societies, the view that now prevails is that training is essential for leadership and management roles.

Although in the main management courses are relatively modern, mid 20th century, analyses of leadership have been around a very long time. Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome and a Stoic philosopher, in order to assess his own leadership wrote a book of notes and observations. After his death in 180 CE, his jottings were published under the title, 'Meditations'.

The question as to whether leadership can be taught is a version of the question, nature or nurture? In the England of Queen Victoria the Public Schools, after the renaissance of Arnold of Rugby, believed it could. Leaders and gentlemen through a curriculum of nurture could have inculcated in them a strong moral and social compass, which would give them the skills to rule the Empire. Criticised from the beginning, Public Schools are never far away from attacks, largely on the grounds of elitism. However, they have fundamentally changed since the 1960s and now bear scant relationship to the theories of Arnold, although it is true to say that the 19th century view lingers on.

Training, like motherhood and apple pie, is self evidently a good thing but within it is a trap for the unwary. If trainers pursue a line of 'this is the answer to that situation' then there is a danger of stifling individuality and innovation. Every new advance always carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction.

Where would we be without the eccentric academic, or the entrepreneur who thinks outside of the box?


Meditations Marcus Aurelius

Leadership CAN be taught Sharon Parks

Philosophers and Kings Gary McCulloch

Stoic Philosophy An Amazon publication

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