NDU’s Gerry Gingrich: You CAN learn to be a leader

An argument over whether leaders are born or made has been raging for a long time. Many people have the natural talent to be leaders, but not everyone is born to lead. Identifying those talents – and providing instruction in the skills that go with the talent – is one mission of Dr. Gerry Gingrich of the National Defense University.

The “nature-versus-nurture” argument was the start of my conversation today with Dr. Gingrich. “You can take a person with relatively average talents and qualities and teach them many skills and abilities about being a leader, that they can rise to the occasion. There are people that no matter how much you teach them or train them or mentor them, they simply don’t step into the role of a leader. It’s more complicated than simply a nature-or-nurture question.”

The demands of leadership have changed over the last 15 to 20 years, too. “leadership today is looked upon very differently than 20 years ago. Today’s information age is globalized. We’re information-rich; we’re in many cases information-overloaded. Boundaries between nation-states, as well as organizations, are very porous. Information flows even across those boundaries that we used to think of as fairly closed. Leading an organization today means knowing it has to change with the environment, and knowing it’s going to be affected by the dynamic environment.”

“In the Industrial Age, 20 or 30 years ago, we were mostly interested in having good managers. We just wanted to keep things status quo. In the Information Age, we’re not interested in the status quo,” Gingrich told me. “We know that’s not good enough any more. It doesn’t matter if you’re a large organization like DoD, or Apple Computers…you have to constantly be inventing, innovating, doing things that are new and different, being agile. The demands on a leader are of a very different nature.”


My conversation with Dr. Gingrich covered the breadth and depth of the skill set leaders need, based on her course at NDU, “Leadership for the Information Age.” We talked about the importance of creativity, the porous nature of boundaries in many organizations, how leaders network to achieve results and meet missions, and the challenges of team structures, where leaders are going from being “the boss” to being “first among peers” and getting their hands dirty like the rest of the team members. You can hear my entire conversation with Dr. Gingrich by clicking on the audio link.