Leadership Skills

“Do I have to be born with leadership skills, or can I learn them?”

This question is not only about leadership skills, but also about leadership qualities and personal development – you’ll find it hard to have one without the others.

It is a question that’s been asked often over the years. My usual answer to this question is, “What do you think?” I’ve heard many different answers.

One answer in particular, by a Harvard graduate high up in the Washington Beltway food chain, inspired this article. His answer was an emphatic “Obviously leaders are born! Leadership cannot be taught!”

The Gold Standard

Wow, I thought. Wait till the Army hears about this. Gen. Odierno will probably order LTG Huntoon to shut down the United States Military Academy at West Point. That would end what was thought to be a 210 year tradition of excellence in developing leaders. Who knew? But fortunately the real truth is that the Army is pretty much the gold standard for developing kids into great leaders. Just take a quick look at some basic history and you’ll see what I mean.

I know, I know, you’re thinking – West Point only takes kids that already have leadership skills and a high level of personal development into their academy, programs, training, etc., but this is not so. Take a look at their mission statement, taken word-for-word, from the Home page of the United States Military Academy website: http://www.usma.edu/.


“Renowned as one of the world’s preeminent leader development institutions, West Point’s mission is to educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country.”

The Army is my example, but the same thing goes for the Naval Academy, Air Force Academy, etc. They are all in to building exceptional leaders with the leadership skills and leadership qualities to match their mission.

Leadership is leadership – no matter where you learn it, it translates to all areas of your life and affects everyone around you. So by now, I hope everyone is convinced that leadership skills are learned. Leaders are built. It’s true that some people have more innate leadership talent, but with a little effort most anyone can learn to be a good leader.

People Moving Up

If you look at most companies, the top leaders start at the bottom and work their way up. At Harley-Davidson, an employee that started there in the shipping department went on to become the CEO.

Conversely, there are old school companies that hire leaders from outside of the company because they haven’t made the level of investment in their people needed to develop them into future leaders. But that’s another interesting story we’ll discuss in another article. Many examples can be found of normal, everyday people turning into excellent leaders, seemingly overnight.


I can assure you that their success didn’t actually happen overnight. It took hard work and perseverance. Like Michael Bolton says about his overnight success as a singer/songwriter “It was a 12 year overnight success”.

How about the shy, middle-aged secretary that decided she had finally had enough of what she saw as craziness going on in Washington D.C.? She thought someone had to do something. Someone had to take the initiative. Totally out of character; she took a stand, put herself out there, and ran for a seat in the U.S. Congress so she could make a difference. And won! Now that’s being a leader.

Leadership Skills

In most careers, a person who is starting out won’t possess anywhere close to the levels of leadership skills or personal development they’ll need to get where they want to go. What they’ll need is a healthy dose of focus, desire, and commitment to be the best they can be.

My firm belief from 26 years in the people development business is – Everyone is a Leader! Think about this statement. You are leading all the time. Everywhere you go. You are always leading by example, whether you think you are or even want to be.

Everything you do as a parent, teacher, student, employee, manager, spouse, family member, or partner that has anything to do with interacting with people is leading in some capacity.

You have influence whether you think so or not. So to continue to get better at leading – work at it. Read some books. Attend seminars and webinars. Study other leaders. Make the most of your leadership potential by staying positive, respectful, and honest with yourself and others.


For instance, with the simple act of driving your car to work, you are setting an example of safe, courteous driving. The guy who is zigzagging through traffic and cutting people off is setting an example of impatience, believing that he is more important than everyone else and that anything goes.

Both of you are leading others, by example, to act in the same way. One is a positive influence and one is negative. Thankfully, there are far more positive people or the streets would be chaos.

Set the Example

You can choose a thousand times a day what kind of leader you’ll be and what type of examples you’ll set. Make your choices well and you will be rewarded. Your choices are cumulative, so start today and as the Army’s slogan says, “Be All You Can Be”.

This great country of ours is a meritocracy, meaning everything is based on merit. This is what makes our country great. You are free to be whatever you want to be.

Everyone is a born leader! All that is required is ongoing personal development, learning leadership skills, and developing the leadership qualities you’ll need to make your dreams come true.

How Do You Learn Leadership Skills?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Ron Whitaker
Ron is an accomplished entrepreneur involved in developing multiple businesses from the ground up. He is the co-founder of About Leaders, an author, and a start-up consultant and investor. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.