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Learning leadership the hard way

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Dov Frohman says leadership can’t be taught—but it can be learned.

He should know. The founder and former CEO of Intel Israel never takes the easy path.

Through an almost desperate force of will mirroring that of his mentor, Intel CEO Andy Grove, Frohman built up a small desert outpost into a massive semiconductor plant, Israel’s largest private employer. Even amid war, Intel Israel never missed a shipment.

In his book, Leadership the Hard Way: Why Leadership Can’t Be Taught, and How You Can Learn It Anyway, Frohman offers his belief that leaders are born—that leadership comes embedded with courage and an instinct to act decisively—and can’t be taught.

He does, however, believe that you can learn leadership by acquiring wisdom and patterning yourself on a mentor. With Grove as his ideal, Frohman absorbed that “only the paranoid survive.”

“The fundamental responsibility of the leaders is to ensure the long-term survival of the organization,” Frohman writes. “I tried to create a culture at Intel Israel in which the imperative of survival became a powerful catalyst for improvisation and innovation.”

Not too surprising when you consider his childhood.

Born in Amsterdam in 1939, the child of Polish Jews who fled the Nazis, Frohman was hidden by a Dutch family during the war. The ordeal taught him that “nothing is truly secure, that survival must never be taken for granted,” but also that determined actions can win.

On the other hand, getting a fat and happy organization to fight for its survival is hard. In that situation, Frohman finds that “asking for the impossible creates a kind of ‘virtual’ survival situation. Almost by definition, it suggests the possibility of failure” and helps workers reach goals they never thought possible.

Leadership guru Warren Bennis dubbed Frohman “an innovator, a questioner, a radical, a champion, a sage, a survivor, and above all, a leader.”

— Adapted from “Dov Frohman Leads the Hard Way,” Paula Margulies, strategy+business.

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