8 Leadership Skills that Cannot Be Taught

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“Everyone wants to be one, but not everyone is born to be one,” my accomplished uncle would boast, stroking his own ego.  But, if leadership was a biological lottery ticket, “Why aren’t many of the children of extraordinary men and women great?” I would counter.  It would shut him up for a while, but predictably, hours or days later, he would recant and reiterate his “leaders are born, not made” mantra.

Inspired, I began to research the subject matter extensively, and to my surprise, he was half-right.  While there were things leaders could be taught, there were other things they could never learn.  Below are seven of them.

  1. I.Q. Intelligence, unlike other skills, cannot be taught—it is biological.  You come into the world inheriting traits from your parents and grandparents.  A leader does not need to be a genius, but every bit of intelligence helps, as it is the primary tool in decision-making.
  2. E.Q. Similar to I.Q., Emotional Intelligence, too, is inherited.  A significant portion of what affects your personality is inherited, as genes can affect chemical messengers such as serotonin and dopamine, which greatly impact personality traits.  Some researchers even estimate that around 40% of our personality traits stem from inherited genes, making E.Q. unteachable.
  3. Intuition. Also known as a “hunch” or “gut feeling,” intuition is the ability to reason and arrive at a conclusion without any concrete proof.  Often more important and powerful than concrete intellect, it can only be honed by the one who possesses it, but it cannot be taught.
  4. Motivation. When a fire is lit, it can burn through wood; when dead, it can’t even burn through paper.  Motivation, too, is the eternal fuel required to move from task-to-task without loss of enthusiasm.  It can be ignited and nurtured by another’s words and actions, but it cannot be taught.
  5. Perseverance. Resilience is one of the major things that separates good leaders from great ones—the capacity to recover and persevere through a series of losses and hardships.  The victor in any battle is always the last person standing.  Like the rest of the skills above, it cannot be taught either; once already in an individual, it can be improved upon, but it cannot be imparted.
  6. Ethics. We are born knowing the difference between right and wrong.  Even without religious instruction, a child knows lying and stealing are bad.  All throughout his or her life, family, friends, and teachers continue to remind him.  But, no matter how fortunate or educated one is in life, if the desire to be honorable isn’t there, no amount of teaching can help that individual.  The desire to do what is right can be influenced, but it cannot be coached or taught.
  7. Empathy. Like virtue, empathy can be studied, but it cannot truly be taught.  Knowledge is of the mind, but empathy is of the heart.  Evidence of this is that some of the world’s worst tyrants received a good education, as well as religious instruction for that matter.  It is the individual who decides whether he or she wants to be compassionate or not, and one cannot give empathy if one doesn’t already have it.
  8. Creativity. Creativity, too, can only be sparked but cannot be taught.  Being largely a function of the brain, you would be hard-pressed trying to instill it in someone who is not wired with it.  According to Szabolcs Keri of the National Institute of Psychiatry and Addictions in Budapest, “Creativity is related to the connectivity of large-scale brain networks.”  He further states, “How brain areas talk to each other is critical when it comes to originality, fluency, and flexibility.”

My conclusion was: despite there being things that cannot be taught, it is everyone’s duty to improve upon the things that can.  What cannot be taught pales in comparison to what can.  Therefore, it behooves a leader, or anyone for that matter, to find an area that can be improved upon and improve upon it each day.

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Matshona Dhliwayo
Matshona Dhliwayo is a Canadian based Philosopher, Entrepreneur, and author of books such as The Little Book of Inspiration, Creativity, The Book, 50 Lessons Every Wise Mother Teaches Her Son, 100 Lessons Every Great Man Wants You to Know, and Lalibela's Wise Man. He is a regular contributor for the African Leadership Magazine and other internationally renowned magazines.