Ep 134: Can Leadership Be Taught?

Can leadership be taught? This is the question that Adam Quiney will be answering in this episode. He gives his insight on some interesting takes on what it takes to be a leader. Learn the different traits and qualities you need to develop within yourself if you’re playing the role of a leader or aiming to be one. Know the importance and effects of admitting and accepting that you need to improve your leadership. Also, Adam defines the distinct difference between those that speak about leadership and the leaders themselves.

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Can Leadership be Taught?

These are conversations with the intention of causing leadership. We want to generate you as a leader in the moment, rather than give you talking points to bring to your staff and to do a presentation on and say, “Here’s a distinction about leadership that I heard.” If what you’re doing with this show is sitting down with people and explaining to them the same distinction you heard here, we are missing the mark together. The job is that you put these into action. You embody them in your being. The absolute worst thing that can happen in leadership is someone who listens to leadership, get a conversation like this one and then goes and parrots it back to someone else. There is no leadership in that.

That’s part of the beauty of leadership. It’s what separates leaders from those that speak about leadership. Leadership is created in the moment, every moment and moment-by-moment. The act of creating this show is an act of leadership. It’s me creating something in the world, speaking something into existence. If this show was about me taking a bunch of distinctions I learned from someone else and then regurgitating them, there may not be a lot of leadership in that. You would be following and talking about leadership. That is not our aim.

Can Leadership Be Taught?

 Our topic is the question, can leadership be taught? There’s a website called AnswerThePublic.com. It’s a great site. You can type in any particular topic and it gives you a breakdown of what everyone is asking about that particular topic. One of the things I saw when I typed in leadership, what are people asking about leadership? Can leaders should be taught? It was one of those questions. The place this question often gets asked is when people are in a role of leadership and they’ve got a staff member that’s challenging. You can’t teach leadership. Some people are either candidate for it and other people are not, and you can cultivate it but this person is not a candidate. They get to lean back and feel good about themselves. They did their very best and it’s not on them. We come back to this question, can it be taught? The answer is no. Leadership cannot be taught.

That’s the short answer. Don’t worry, we’re going to come back and elaborate on that because I imagine many of you hearing that will think, “What that’s counter to what you’re about, Adam.” I’m going to write that wrong, so to speak. Many people believe leadership cannot be taught. What they mean by this is this belief that leadership is a quality you’re born with or you are not. When I’m asked to come and speak on leadership, which is generally my least favorite thing to do, not because I don’t love the topic but because talking about leadership again is antithetical. What would be much more powerful is to create leadership at the moment with people. When I speak on this, I’ll ask people like, “What do you think is required to be a leader? What it’s called for?”

People will list necessary qualities. You’ve got to have emotional intelligence, be empathetic, have command, be direct and bold. The thing about this list of traits is if you’re playing along your head, you’ve already got a trait that hasn’t been listed here, almost certainly. What about that? That’s the nature of this. We could go on describing all of these traits and still find more things that different people think is required for someone to be an effective leader. We could list for days and we would still never come to that. Let’s layout a bit of groundwork here. To expand your capacity as a leader is to expand your capacity to bring, be and do whatever is required in the moment.

It means that the person who has access to the greatest amount of leadership in the moment is the one who has the greatest range available to them. They’re the person that can if what’s called for is to raise their voice and show, and they can do so. As soon as we have a rule, a good leader would never show. That rule cuts you off from some aspect of your leadership. It’s about having the broadest range available to us because then we can bring whatever is called for in the moment. We have to be able to feel into the moment and like, “What is required here?” If we’ve already eliminated any possibility and worked for the rule that the leader never raises their voice, we’re not going to be able to feel into the moment calling for that. We’ve got a rule that precludes that.

The Job Of A Leader

Second, I say that your job as a leader is to develop more leaders and develop the leadership of those around you. Otherwise, what you’re doing is developing more followers and that does not serve you or them. Whatever we have on that list of traits or qualities becomes a sacred cow for us. It becomes a place where we defend our leadership and the “right” way to do things rather than looking at it as a place to move beyond. Further, whatever our sacred cows for being able to lead, those are the places where we’re cutting out huge swaths of people that would be otherwise eligible for leadership. We cut them out on the basis that we’ve determined they’re not candidates.

If someone says, “Sometimes or always, emotional intelligence is so important.” That is one of the most popular things. Leaders got to be able to feel people. It’s got to be present to that. That then becomes your sacred cow. It becomes the thing you are going to be unwilling to let go. If there is something in the moment called for, that would be in conflict with emotional intelligence, for example. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re directly in conflict. One can never exist with the other present but it might mean that in this moment, what has to be the priority is that we move the thing forward regardless of how people are feeling in the moment. There are going to be times when a leader has to do that. I understand you feel this way and this is what we have to do. “You don’t understand.” “I do and now, I’m taking a step and we’re making this happen.”

GL 134 | Taught Leadership

Taught Leadership: The absolute worst thing that can happen in leadership is someone listens to a leadership conversation and then goes and parrots it back to someone else. There is no leadership in that.


There’s a place when causing something to move forward becomes primary over emotional intelligence. Whereas if we have emotional intelligence as our sacred cow, that situation can never come to be. It’s always, first and foremost, emotional intelligence. You’ll get this often with many leaders raised by people who raised their voice a lot like people with a lot of anger or people who had their own allergic reaction to anger. The end result is the same as that. They are very sensitive and sensitivity becomes the thing, always. The impact of that is when someone on the team is having feelings, things screeched to a halt to address the feelings. I want to be clear that there are also way too many leaders that have no capacity to be with feelings as they show up.

I’m not saying feeling is bad, step over the feelings. What I’m using here is feelings as a way of illustrating where sacred cows get in the way. While there are going to be some people who have a feeling as you’re going forward and that has to be addressed, there’ll be other people who experienced everything through their feelings. They are completely at the effect of their feelings. As soon as things get tough, they start to cry. There’s going to be a moment, at some point in our leadership, where we have to stand for that person to choose beyond their feelings.

“Reggie, I noticed you’re crying again. I want to honor that’s there. I want to point out that this is the 5th day in a row that your emotions have stopped you. Are you committed to this? It’s good to know you’re committed to it. It seems like we’re at a point where you’re going to have to be willing to choose beyond your feelings if you are committed to this. You’re going to have to make a commitment past what’s showing up for you in the moment.” For people where the sacred cow is emotional intelligence, this can become impossible.

Adam, I mean emotional intelligence a little differently and that’s missing the point. The point isn’t that your version of emotional intelligence looks exactly the way that this so-called strawman has drawn up looks like. The point is that anytime we have a sacred cow, it’s going to get in the way. To go to that second point I made, if you’ve decided you must have emotional intelligence as a leader, then anyone that you perceive is not demonstrating that gets cut out from being a candidate for leadership. Those become the people that you say, “Not them, but these people over here demonstrated social emotional intelligence, so they are the candidates. I’m going to pour my energies into them.”

What Makes A Capable Leader

What that does is it reduces your capacity to show up as a leader. You’ve immediately, right out of the gate, cut out 50% of the people you could lead. If your role is to develop leaders but you’ve cut your legs out from under you, here’s what makes someone a candidate for leadership. This is going to be a simple definition. They are a yes to having their leadership developed. That’s what makes them a candidate. All too often, we step over that. We take it as an assumption. We don’t check ongoingly because this is not a one-and-done binary switch that people flip on. People, in one moment, will be a yes to having their leadership developed.

In another moment, they’re going to get defensive and stuck. We might have to ask them again, “I noticed you feel defensive. I’m not trying to push you anywhere. I noticed this keeps showing up. Is this going to be a point where we’re going to move past this? Are you still a yes to me developing your leadership? Are you still a yes to trusting me in this?” We have to keep checking but that’s what has someone to be a candidate for leadership as opposed to their emotional intelligence or something like that.

What separates leaders from those that speak about leadership is that leadership is created at the moment, every moment, moment by moment. Share on X

Here’s the other thing. Everyone has the capacity to expand their range. Whatever our sacred cow is, that’s the place we’ve concluded someone is lacking and therefore not able to lead. Have you noticed this? Have you found places where you’ve determined people are uncoachable or not suitable for leadership? You may be saying things he doesn’t have the right sensitivity. She isn’t willing to be bold enough. I’m waiting for her to do this. These are all ways that we abdicate from our own leadership. Ways that we let ourselves off the hook of developing leadership because the problem is over there.

If he was more sensitive then we could do the leadership thing. If she was willing to be bold then we could do it. I’m waiting for them. If they would show up, bring it to them then and then be an invitation for them to show up. There’s a place where you’ve missed stepped or not stepped forward. Again, to go back to our original question we started with, can leadership be taught? The answer to that was no. I maintain it still is.

We’re going to come back to that. I want to finish summarizing our groundwork which is, to develop ourselves as a leader is to expand the capacity of what we can bring, be and do in the moment in service of moving the project forward and we are deepening our ability to cause and develop more leadership. What makes someone a candidate for leadership is that they are yes to having their leadership developed. Why then is the answer to the question can you teach leadership, no? The answer is no because you can’t teach leadership. Leadership is not taught. This is why so many leadership courses fail. This goes back to the spiel that I gave you at the top of this show.

If what you take from this as information in your brain and then go and regurgitate that information at people, you end up with people regurgitating information to other people. That goes all the way down the pyramid. The truly masterful leader is able to do and be whatever is required of the moment to move things forward. I know this is easy to say, know intellectually and to regurgitate verbally, leadership has never in the knowing. It’s in the being. Leadership is developed through coaching and modeled by yourself. It is not taught.

This means a willingness to expand beyond our range. A willingness to be coached ourselves. Most people want to coach the leadership of other people but do not want to expose themselves to the vulnerability of being coached themselves. I hear this all the time. I hear this a lot from coaches who will want to create one-on-one clients that they’re working with it at a deep level. If I asked them, “Who’s your coach?” They’ll have some workaround to it like, “I do these programs. I’m a part of a very elite group of coaches. We meet five times a year for a week each time. It’s potent and powerful.”

That’s great. You’re not making the commitment that you’re expecting your clients to make. You’re not modeling the same thing in your own life. I don’t feel I need that. That’s not what leadership is about. This is not about making those people wrong, it’s more about showcasing some of the easy places that prove or demonstrate how easy it is to say one thing at the same time never being that thing. This is why you can’t teach leadership. You can model it for people and you can coach them to call forward more of their leadership, but it is not about teaching it.

This means, again, willingness to expand beyond our range, especially when people make proclamations about someone being uncoachable, these people are ironically modeling the same thing themselves. They’re not working with a coach or a leader that is coaching them. They’re instead condemning this person for being uncoachable. If we were to ask them, “how are you uncoachable?” “I’m not. I do whatever is culprit.” “Do you have a coach?” “No, not yet. I’m doing pretty good.” That’s the height of uncomfortability. You’re not even opening yourself up to the possibility of being coached. This person you’re working with is more coachable than you are. They’re showing up the way you are modeling.

Instead, what we do is we seek out collusion from those around us. I go and talk to this person over here who agrees with me that this person isn’t a candidate for leadership. We’re much more likely to seek out collusion or to attempt to teach someone, “That’s a great distinction, Adam. I said I’m going to go and give that to this person. That’ll make the difference.” No, model it yourself. Where can you see the opportunity to put a distinction to work in your own life? Always begin by modeling. What do you do about all of this? What’s the upshot? How do we put this into action? How do we be this rather than teach more of it? First, we have to notice our sacred cows for leadership. What do you insist is required for a leader? What do you demand from your people if they were to be candidates for leadership? What is your go-to when things are rough? I invite you to sit down if you want to take this on and make a list.

Number one, what do I insist is required for a leader? Number two, what do I demand from my people as candidates? Three, what is my go-to when things are tough? These all represent places that you will hold onto when called to expand beyond your current range. Ask yourself too, what’s on the opposite end of the spectrum from these sacred cows? If you hold that a good leader is always empathetically engaged with their people, what about those times when it’s called for us to put the attention entirely on the bottom line to disengage empathetically with people? The opposite end of the spectrum from your sacred cow represent no-go zones. Zones where you have no capacity even push into to even consider. Why are you resistant to even considering the possibility of showing up in particular ways? What are you unwilling to do or be as a leader?

GL 134 | Taught Leadership

Taught Leadership: To expand your capacity as a leader is to expand your capacity to bring, be, and do whatever is required at the moment.


These represent places where your leadership will be blocked. These represent places where you’ve got a rule and leadership has not in the realm of rules. Remember, leadership is about expanding our range. It’s to bring, be and do whatever is required in the moment to create what we’re committed to creating. It’s important to know that some people will say, “Adam, by that measure, Hitler was a great leader. You could say, in some regards, he was.” Most of us are committed to something beyond the extermination of a whole group of human beings even if we had something like Steve Jobs who is committed to making the best products possible at Apple. My hunch is that he might’ve wanted to create a different culture than the one that was there, likewise for Elon Musk. There’s always another layer of leadership available.

No one is finished at leadership. There may be a point that Steve Jobs if he was to sit down and have a conversation with someone who’s able to stand with him and stand for his leadership, he would start to see there’s something deeper in addition to everything he’s already creating that he would want to include. What about if Apple could create all of those results, he was able to do so without crunching and could boast that their employees had the lowest rate of divorce of any company in Silicon Valley? That would be remarkable.

That would be the next layer of leadership, assuming that was something you wanted to be committed to. It’s never about, “This person did that.” There are always more edges to lean into. I assert that broader goal was not possible because aspects of leadership were held as sacred cows, but that would then not be the case.

Getting Support As A Leader

Lastly, what can you do? Get supported. I can’t emphasize this enough because of the heart of this work. If you want to develop someone’s leadership and have them be open and coachable, you have to model that.

Not by saying the words, “I’m coachable when the time comes.” That’s bullshit. It’s fluff. You model it by creating a space in which you have to be coachable over and over again every week with consistency. In this way, masterful leadership is forged and you model what you most wish to see. This is you making the commitment to show up and be supported even. Especially when you don’t feel like you’re have anything to be supported on. That’s the magic. That’s where all of this comes together.

That’s pretty much everything we’ve got for you. I’m going to share what we’re coming up with next time. Before I do, I want to say that if you are interested in going beyond teaching like I talk a lot about, we’re not trying to teach you something to go and regurgitate, the best way you can start to embody a lot of this work in your being is to get into one of the classes, groups, coaching products, services or whatever that I offer. We support you in embodying this and living these ways of being, these edges for you. Some of the best ways you can do that right now are the Creating Clients Course. We start in January 11th, 2021. If you go to AdamQuiney.com/ClientCreation, you’ll see we’ve got a webpage there.

Your job as a leader is to develop more leaders, to develop the leadership of those around you. Share on X

All the dates are set up. It’s a low level of commitment, a mere $1,000 for ten weeks. What’ll happen on the other side of this course is that your relationship to sales will drastically shift. Most people have these two things separated. There’s the thing I love doing. I’m so glad that I get to do it. It’s my zone of genius. There’s this thing over here called sales that I have to do in order to do what I love. It sucks but I’m willing to do it. I can offload or delegate that or whatever. In this course, we help you break up that framing. We help you unlearn that and see how all of the systems set up in the world often are about maintaining they’re feeding into that context and relationship to these things as separate and divided.

Instead, we show you, work with you and coach you to create them as the same thing. The end result is that you learn, embody and then create prosperity from enrolling people, creating prosperity selling, creating clients, all simply being a function of you showing up as yourself in the world. You being fully expressed and deepening relationship with people. It’s absolutely transformative and magical. If that is a place that might interest you and you’re like, “I want to go beyond merely teaching or being taught leadership,” that’s a great place to start engaging with us.

Next time, we’re going to be talking about the principles of service. Specifically, what I mean there is, we collectively often want to serve people around us. We’re all committed to that but we get caught. How we get caught is what if I’m being pushy? What if I’m being an obnoxious person? How do I know? Where we go is, we err on the side of not being pushy. That gets in the way of us being the service we’re on this planet to be. The principles of service are eighteen principles I’ve created to support people in getting clear. How can I serve someone, to do so elegantly and with great joy? I’d be going over about six of them next time talking about those principles, how they play out, how they work, how they’re not rules but rather guidelines or principles and what to do with them. I hope you enjoyed this episode. Take care. We’ll talk to you.

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About Adam Quiney

I’m an obsessive perfectionist, high-performer, former lawyer, and now an Executive Mentor. I know what it’s like to succeed easily and quickly. To blindly put my happiness in the hands of achievement.

All the success, money and possessions in the world couldn’t cure my boredom. Couldn’t produce a loving, intimate relationship with my wife…and definitely couldn’t fulfill me.