Can Leadership Be Learned? Michigan Cities Say “Yes”.

By Jane Whitttington on June 12th, 2016 / Comments

Merriam-Webster has a straightforward definition of leadership. They say it is “a position as a leader of a group, organization, etc; the time when a person holds the position of leader; and the power or ability to lead other people”

Simple enough, but academics and business leaders have debated for years about the qualities needed to be a leader and whether those qualities are innate or can be learned.

In a recent article in The New York Times by Duff McDonald, the author looks at various graduate business schools and says that the topic they most often try to teach is not business but that intangible attribute, leadership.

McDonald says, “Harvard Business School claims to ‘educate leaders who make a difference in the world’. The University of Michigan’s Ross School does one better, developing ‘leaders who make a positive difference in the world’. Kellogg at Northwestern develops ‘brave leaders who inspire growth in people, organizations and markets’. And Duke’s Fuqua says it does what it does because ‘the world needs leaders of consequence’.”

Forbes magazine delineates the top ten qualities that make a great leader. These include: honesty; the ability to delegate by trusting the team; communication skills; confidence; commitment; a positive attitude; creativity; intuition; inspiration; and an ability to understand what motivates the team.

Cities like Grand Rapids, Lansing, Holland and Muskegon have in place leadership programs which can help current or emerging leaders hone their skills, network with others and learn the challenges and opportunities facing their individual cities.

Leadership Grand Rapids is a nine-month long leadership program offering leaders from business, non-profits and government the opportunity to learn from leaders and from one another. The comprehensive program encompasses:

  • Essential needs
  • Talent development
  • Public safety
  • Community health
  • Economic prosperity
  • Quality of life
  • Community trusteeship
  • Philanthropy

The program is sponsored by the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and costs $2,950. Often participants are sponsored by their employers, but there are also a limited number of scholarships available.

Candidates are selected by the Selection Committee which interviews each candidate with special consideration given to an individual’s community involvement, their ability to be a community leader and the sector they represent.

In Lansing, the leadership program is sponsored by the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce and, each year, chooses some 35 established and emerging leaders who have the capacity to make a positive impact in the community. To be accepted into the program, applicants should have demonstrated commitment to the community.  The Chamber tries to diversify the group by seeking professionals from financial services, education, manufacturing, healthcare, the arts, government and other areas.

Tuition for Leadership Lansing is $1,950. There next program starts in the fall and applications are due by August 1, 2016. This program is only in its second year but proved so successful the first time around that they are hoping to make it an annual event.

According to their website, “Leadership Lansing is an eight month program in which participants engage in seven workshops where they are exposed to key institutions, industry sectors and business leaders that are the fabric of the Greater Lansing region. Workshops are focused on government, education, manufacturing, insurance, healthcare, home grown businesses and entrepreneurism, cultural gems in the region and the history of Lansing. Participants also receive training in individual leadership skills including understanding how to identify and leverage their personal strengths. Leadership Lansing is facilitated by credentialed coaches and certified leadership instructors.”

Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce in Holland has been offering a leadership program since 1988. This year-long program includes a retreat in September and eight full-day sessions covering such topics as law enforcement, education, social services, the environment, economic development and the arts. One of the requirements for acceptance into the program is that the participant “is willing, following the program year, to invest time, resources, and talent into strengthening our community.”

In Muskegon, the leadership program is jointly run by the Chamber of Commerce and Muskegon Community College. Called Muskegon in Focus, this eight week program runs from September through November each year and features half-day sessions highlighting all aspects of life in Muskegon. It meets in locations throughout the city. According to Cecilia Riley, Communications Director for the Muskegon Chamber of Commerce, “The program is designed for people who are new to the community but can also be useful for people who have made Muskegon their home for a while.”

She continues, “The program costs $565 and we generally accept about 30 people for each session.”

Another program sponsored by the Muskegon Chamber is Muskegon Star!, a four-hour certification course for front-line professionals which helps them provide the most up-to-date information on Muskegon and the surrounding area.

For more information about these programs, visit:


About the Author

Jane Whitttington

Jane Whitttington

Jane Whitttington is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Grand Rapids. A Michigan native and Michigan State University grad, she enjoys reading, travel, politics and volunteering.