You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

What we now know about neuroplasticity means we can grow in our thinking. Drawing on the advances in neuroscience and brain plasticity, Aldrich (2013) asserted that the previous conclusions of a fixed intelligence quotient were untrue and that the brain continues to develop over time. The adage “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” doesn’t hold up. Leaders can evolve beyond their dispositions and personalities and cultivate new skills to enhance themselves personally and professionally.

One Size Fits All

All leadership styles are not created equal, and every scenario may require a unique approach. The command style of leadership is powerful and wise in particular circumstances; however, it is also ineffective and unwise in others. Can you imagine a preschool teacher snapping like a military drill sergeant at three and four-year-olds? On the other hand, is it wise for a corporate CEO to tolerate or coddle mediocrity? Different contexts call for different leadership styles and use various tools to fit the situation.

1950s CEO Reigns Supreme

Emotionally detached, top-down authority structures emphasizing compliance had their day, but it has passed. Kenneth W. Thomas (2009) described this as a shift from the compliance era to the partnership era. Employees are not mindless drones who take orders handed down from the corporate sage. Treating employees like that will diminish productivity and shorten longevity. Shifting your perspective toward partnership simultaneously unlocks creativity, builds trust, and cultivates a culture of shared vision.

Leadership Is a Position

We often associate leadership with a title. However, being at the top of an organizational chart does not make you a leader any more than having a nameplate that says “leader” does. Some of the most influential leaders I’ve ever worked with didn’t have a position. They had earned influence because of their integrity, loyalty, empathy, wisdom, and care for others. More often than not, I’ve found that the best leaders have positions come their way because of respect and recognition.

Dispelling some of the common myths surrounding leadership is helpful. Whether you have a title, find yourself starting over in a new place, or have served faithfully with no position for years, understanding these concepts can help you reset your mindset. Learn something new, challenge the stereotypes that impact your thinking, and embrace your influence regardless of your title.


Aldrich, R. r. (2013). Neuroscience, education and the evolution of the human brain. History Of Education, 42(3), 396-410. doi:10.1080/0046760X.2012.749543

Thomas, K. W. (2009). Intrinsic motivation at work: What Really Drives Employee Engagement. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

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