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Howard Gardner
Scholar

Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner is the Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Senior Director of Harvard Project Zero.

Best Learn by Observing

Unless one believes that some of us are born leaders, while others could never become leaders, the answer to the question is obvious: "Leadership can and should be taught." However, unless I am mistaken, the question has an underlying connotation: "Can leadership be taught didactically?" On this latter reading, I think that the jury is still out. It certainly can't hurt to read about leadership, to talk about what it takes, to master Clausewitz or Machiavelli or to absorb Warren Bennis, James McGregor Burns or David Gergen. But will such a course make a significant difference?

I think that leadership is more likely to be learned if one has the chance to observe effective leaders up close, ask them questions, interact with them, and receive counseling and mentoring from them as one moves into leadership positions. This is the process that was followed by Jack Welch in business, by Bill Bowen and Rick Levin in academics, by Sam Rayburn in the Congress, George Marshall in the military, etc. Also, traditionally, in military (e.g. the McCain's) and political families (e.g. the Kennedy's), promising younger persons were drawn into the leadership fold.

I don't know enough about the military academies to have an informed opinion on what they achieve in leadership and in other areas. But after many decades of functioning, we ought to have good data on this question -- which is better, the Petraeus track or the MacArthur track?

By Howard Gardner

 |  April 20, 2009; 11:34 AM ET
Category:  Teaching Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Mr. Gardner,

I don't understand your closing question "which is better, the Petraeus track or the MacArthur track?"

Both MacArthur and Petraeus graduated from West Point and both returned to the staff and faculty here. Both became 4-star generals and both commanded theaters of war. Their “tracks’ seem similar.

Col. Bryan Hilferty
West Point Director of Communications

Posted by: bryan-hilferty | April 20, 2009 4:49 PM
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Both Petraeus and MacArthur are West Point grads. Both tracks are successful.

Posted by: anotherperspective2 | April 20, 2009 2:40 PM
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