Can universities create leaders? Can I teach you how to be a leader? My answer is no. I can teach you about leadership, I can’t teach you to be a leader. Only experience can teach you to be a leader.
In fact, that is pretty much what most leadership development theories and studies show. The only way to develop leaders is to give them experiences which stretch the individual’s experiences. But just providing challenges will not develop leaders. The precondition to developmental experiences is the readiness of the individual. To be ready for development we need to be open to new experiences, hold the belief (or mindset) that you can grow your leadership abilities through practice and effort, be able emotionally to process new learning, and be in a period of transition, where we are able to engage in learning.
If we are ready for development, and then have a developmental experience, then we need to reflect on the experience, identify what we have learned, and be comfortable with assessing our own personal strengths and weaknesses. This period of reflection helps us adjust our beliefs and behaviours to improve our leadership capabilities. Often we need a coach to help us see what we have learned, and what we have yet to learn.
Leadership development comes from leading, that is, acting as a leader. You can’t learn that in a classroom. So the next time you want to develop yourself, don’t take a course, jump in to the next big opportunity, by taking on a new stretch assignment, grabbing a high-profile project or working on something that makes you feel a bit uncomfortable. To quote the founders of Nike, “Just Do It”.