From Inside Out: Beyond Teaching About Leadership

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2009


Association of Leadership Educators


Teaching about leadership is necessary to enable others to lead effectively, but it is not sufficient. Not sufficient in the sense that leadership requires doing and leadership development therefore requires action-learning (or learning on the job) to find one’s voice, develop, and hone one’s skills. After years of not only writing about leadership but also serving in a leadership role in higher education, let me confess that it is much easier to teach or even simply write about leadership than it is to be a leader. The truth is that most leadership theory is fine. Really. We can argue about the right, proper, or best theory, but pick nearly any treatise off the bookshelf and what it says about being an effective leader is mostly fine. The theory makes sense; it is just that the application is more challenging than we can rightfully convey in a book and that the noise, or unexplained variance in a statistical sense, in any real situation is often much greater than we can describe empirically or in many cases literally imagine. Which accounts for why some people say that leadership is an art and not a science and, by the way, this is not typically meant to be a compliment, or that leadership subsequently cannot be taught, or that leadership explains very little about why things go well or poorly, and the like.