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Kent J. Thiry
Corporate leader

Kent J. Thiry

Kent Thiry is Chairman and CEO of DaVita Inc., the largest independent provider of dialysis services in the US.

The Human Skill

The answer is certainly yes -- leadership can be taught -- but the next question is how it should be taught. The answer to that might help answer the question, posed by Tom Ricks, of where it should be done.

Management is a business skill. So to become a better manager it is good to go to a school that teaches business. Leadership, on the other hand, is a human skill. To become a better leader one must become a better human, and therefore should go to the environment that is conducive to creating the series of self-awareness epiphanies that are necessary for that to happen.

So much of leadership teaching is wasted with lists of "what leaders do." The fact is there are many officers or executives who "do" those same things without leading well. This is because those who are led determine whether their boss or commanding officer is in fact a leader or just a boss -- and they base their decision more on what the superior "is" as a person than what he or she "does".

Of course there are skills and techniques that dramatically enhance a person's ability to lead, as well as manage increasingly large or complex situations. These are best learned by intense discussions of real-world case studies, sometimes with one of the people who had been actually involved, or by placing the student in an organization where he or she can learn by watching real, effective leaders make tough day-to-day decisions that reflect whether that organization is in fact mission- and values-driven or not, whether it has a strategy and sticks to it or not.

So leadership can be taught, and must be, if a society is to be sustainably well-led. But it can only be taught with high degrees of effectiveness in two settings: either in an environment where it is consistently challenged and practiced in a transparent fashion, or in an organization where it can be taught by those who have been distinguished leaders, in the eyes of the people whom they led.

By Kent J. Thiry

 |  April 21, 2009; 4:08 PM ET
Category:  Teaching Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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