Is Leadership a Skill Which Can be Taught? (Yes, Sort of)


Many variations of this question arise often. Can I learn to be a leader? Are leaders born or made? Can leadership be taught? The sentiments are basically the same. As mentioned in our article on Can I be a Leader Without Experience? Sometimes one can actually slip into a leadership role without even realizing they have done so!

Leadership skills are skills which can be taught, practiced, and improved. The best leaders never stop learning, growing, and refining their leadership skills. As a general rule, learning leadership skills begin with a lot of personal growth, followed by learning some specific theory, rules, and techniques.

Even though leadership skills definitely can be taught, why is the “sort of” caveat in the title? Read on, future leader!

Personal Growth

Leadership skills are rooted in personal growth. When I first began to emerge as a leader in my organization, it was only after a difficult period in my life in which I did a lot of growing up. I spent years doing a lot of soul-searching, personal reflection, and making sacrifices to become a better person. As a result of that journey, leadership qualities began to emerge on their own.

In my workplace I became more empathic, courageous, and confident all of which were noticed by my peers. Whereas I used to rely on excuses, I transformed into someone who relied on results. Instead of being the problem, I became the solution to problems.

Without even realizing it, people began gravitating to me, asking my opinion on matters, and seeking my help in solving problems. In my quest to become a better person, leadership naturally emerged.

A Pathway to Personal Growth

So the real answer to the question “are leaders made, or born?” I believe it is a little bit of both. Anyone can acquire leadership skills, but not everyone is willing to do the work and make the necessary sacrifices. I can teach someone the skills, but I cannot necessarily convince them that the pain of acquiring the skills is worth it. I can show someone the path, but they have to experience the journey on their own. I cannot walk the path for them.

Leadership is not academic. You cannot crack open a textbook and get the answers. There are answers, but you have to find them, and it’s the journey to finding them which will teach you everything you need to know about leadership.

As Marcus Aurelius says, the obstacle is not in the way the obstacle is the way. Do you want to know how to be a leader? Because there is an answer to that question. But you have to overcome the obstacle in the path, and the struggle is the teacher, not the answer on the other side.

Voluntary Suffering

If there is one thing all competing religions and philosophies can agree on it’s this fact; life is suffering. And while that sounds horribly depressing, there is also a beautiful truth which is almost always neglected. And that is, we get to choose how to suffer. In this life, we have two choices. Suffer the pain of discipline, or suffer the pain of regret. Our natural inclination is towards immediate gratification. And here is an inherent problem. Discipline requires the work first, and the much richer reward comes later. Whereas everything bad in life, the reward is first and the cost (including regret) comes later.

“Suffer the pain of discipline, or suffer the pain of regret.”


Do you want to be a leader? Well, that requires you to be a better person. Do you want to become a better person? Well, that requires you to get busy suffering on purpose. Start subjecting yourself voluntarily to suffering the pain of discipline. Make it your best friend.

Get up and work out. Even when it’s cold and you don’t feel like it. Say no to the donuts and alcohol. Read the books even when you would rather watch Netflix. Go to bed early. Drink water instead of soda. Practice the art of being in control of your emotions.

The price for greatness comes first. The reward comes second.

Are Leaders Born or Made?

I can teach someone the textbook answer to this question. Yes, leadership skills absolutely can be taught and learned by anyone. All humans have the potential to be great leaders. But not everyone has the strength or courage to willingly engage in the voluntary suffering of discipline. Humans are hardwired to resist pain, even when we know intellectually that pain is good for us .

Where Do I Begin?

If you’re ready to take the journey, self-improvement starts small with forming winning habits. Make your bed. Go running. Read books on being a better person. It truly does start here. Rome was not built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour. And that will become your guiding ethic. Small, winning changes over time will add up to an amazing transformation for you.

“Rome was not built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour.”


Leadership is self-improvement, and self-improvement is a destination not a journey. Once you begin to walk the path, you can never stop, and you are never done. It’s very difficult, and remarkably worth it.

Erik Murrah

Author, nerd, chess player, artist, business owner, runner, mediocre philosopher, outdoorsman. Creator of the Arise Tribe.

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