Learning How to Lead

Last Updated Jan 23, 2008 8:55 AM EST

One of the two classes we're taking this session is Leadership. I have to admit, I've been skeptical from the start. Can you really learn how to be a leader in the classroom?

It's not that I thought the class would be worthless, but the topic is so very gray. Ask 50 people what makes a good leader, and you'll likely get 50 different responses. Sure, there will be similarities, but the concept of leadership is not as easily defined as, say, vertical integration (yep, still in econ).

Well, you know what they say about assumptions. Imagine my surprise when all that reading I had to do covered the various theories of leadership. And lo and behold -- the very first theory we read about was the trait theory. In other words, the theory that says people are born to lead... or not.

So far, the class has been more interesting -- and more research-based -- than I expected. But there's a drawback. All that theory can be really boring.

Yes, I was skeptical about learning how to be a leader in a classroom, but that sounds like more fun than going through the nuts and bolts of each leadership theory chronologically. There just has to be some middle ground.

Apparently, it doesn't have to be a series of dry theories or a bunch of vague development exercises. In a prescient moment last week, BNET's Nicole Solis pointed me toward a recent edition of BNET's Useful Commute podcast series, "Useful Commute: Moral Lessons in Literature," which featured Sandra Sucher discussing the moral leadership class she teaches for Harvard Business School.

In her class, Sucher uses literature classics and history to teach students how to become moral leaders. She believes that students connect more to characters and their relationships and that they can learn more about moral leadership from them than from lectures or case studies. Now, that's what I'm talking about.

Maybe it's the English major in me, but I would love to take her course. In such a gray area of learning, what better way to teach than to focus on the situations and the relationships that formed great leaders?

In the interview, Sucher highlights the benefits that an author's portrayal and insights offers. "In literature, the author lays out for us all of life as it's lived, " she said. Through the story, we get to know the ambitions and motivations of the character, something that doesn't typically come across in a case study or theory.

So, what's your take on learning leadership? Do you think you can learn it in a classroom? What experiences with leadership classes have you had?