Leadership Can Be Learned

Sharon Daloz Parks wrote a book called Leadership Can Be Taught. The title represents a powerful idea—we can learn leadership. This is good news if you’ve ever felt inadequate as a leader. Parks suggests people, especially adults, learn from experience. She asks the question, “If leaders are not simply ‘born,’ can leadership be taught?” She affirms, yes, indeed, leadership can be taught—which means each one of us can learn to be a better leader.

Leadership can feel overwhelming, nebulous, and complex. When I feel overwhelmed as a leader, I remember leadership is a learning process. Learning is critical to lifelong leadership.

More than a year ago, the organization I am part of—a large church with multiple satellite locations—redesigned its organizational structure to meet the needs of our community and address the rapidly shifting culture of our world. We needed to adapt. We needed to change, and change required new learning along the way. Change feels uncomfortable because we are asked to learn new skills, behaviors, and practices. You, too, likely experienced the pressure of change the past couple years—who hasn’t?! Talk about great learning opportunities.

What are you learning today to enhance your leadership for tomorrow? This is a question I ask myself. How do you utilize your experiences day to day as learning opportunities?

Often, I pick up a book to start learning something new. Right now, I’m reading all about matrix organizations. One book I’m reading is Making the Matrix Work by Kevan Hall. Another book I’m reading is Reinventing the Organization by Arthur Yeung and Dave Ulrich. Each of these books addresses how we work together in our organizations. And for fun, I’m reading Alex Hutchinson’s Endure. He talks about the elasticity of the mind and body. Elasticity has to do with how we challenge ourselves to go farther than we think.

Strengths Finders tells me learning is one of my top 5 strengths. I love learning even more from experience. Sharon Daloz Parks provides three strategies for learning from experience:

Engage Experience with Head, Heart, and Mind—Whether you lead a meeting, recruit volunteers, organize a team to pursue a big objective or initiative, immerse yourself in the experience. Practice dialogue with different people and viewpoints, lean into uncertainties as well as commonalities, find the paradoxes and explore them, provide space to reflect on your experience. Experience is a great teacher.

Learn to Pay Attention—This one is hard, because paying attention to what’s happening is more than observation. It’s also paying attention to our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as leaders. Vulnerability is required. When we are confronted by leadership challenges, remaining open to what we’re seeing, and possibly have never seen before, helps keep an open posture to learning.

A Little Courage Goes a Long Way—It takes courage to learn something new. It takes courage to step into a new role, assignment, or job. Today, you are asked to learn new skills, adapt to changing realities, try new things that you didn’t learn in your formal education. And that requires courage. The good news is that just a little bit goes a long way.

Send me an email, what are you learning today to practice leadership tomorrow?

Rev. Dr. Joshua Clough serves as Location Pastor for Resurrection Overland Park. Joshua also partners with our ShareChurch team as Director of the ShareChurch Academy to provide practical leadership resources to pastors and other leaders. Joshua completed his doctorate in Practical Theology and Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. He runs marathons, ultra-marathons, and because he grew up in Seattle, drinks a lot of coffee.