On Leadership

On Leadership

                A colleague and I exchanged a series of emails focusing on topics for which we each were seeking some kind of “revelation” in order to enjoy personal satisfaction and potential closure. Examples included such concepts as Faith, Love, Destiny, and now Leadership; we found as we ambled through our verbal interactions that in each case, in order to internalize the concept, our understanding needed to be reduced to identifying “The Essence” upon which the idea is based.

With Faith, we arrived at a perspective that true faith comes from within the individual, either self-created or through the recognition that certain basics found in a particular religious code “seem to fit”. Faith imposed externally, accompanied by some form of the statement, “You ought to believe this”, doesn’t normally establish a real commitment or true assimilation. In one example, we could identify one individual who was not raised in an organized religion yet had developed a strong faith in a Supreme Power, and felt to be part of that power. In another case, a person raised as a Catholic discovered that many of the fundamentals found in Islam more closely supported this individual’s perceptions of the world and the hereafter, and provided strong guidance for traveling through life’s milestones.

The highest expression of Love between two individuals is not a physical union nor is it passing friendship; while it may include these things and often does, it must go beyond, to a state where the two minds wrap around and permeate each other, and all words and deeds pass through this mutual filter. In the intellectual sense, the two are now one. There were examples of major differences in the age of two individuals, yet when each has attained true adulthood, age becomes irrelevant if viewed from the intellectual perspective.

And so it is with Leadership—what is its Essence? What are the characteristics of a true leader? In our discussions, we quickly realized that there are some people whom we would identify as leaders and some as mere managers; there are also those who are thrust into leadership positions by external circumstances such as a major crisis, but who may or may not thrive in their new role.

Let’s try to identify some characteristics of a real leader. First, there are expectations that the leader will effectively deal with concerns of “the here and now”, being able to marshal resources and personnel to solve current problems. This could be described as the “Manager Component” of Leadership, and is a good starting point. By being effective at this level, it removes much of the anxiety and confusion from the backs of “the Followers”, and allows them to go on with their own activities and not have to make decisions. Some so-called Leaders never go beyond this stage. A good leader provides the background leading to the decision, indicating the pros and cons of different options that were considered. At the same time, input is sought from all those who would be affected by the decision, thus creating greater or lesser degrees of “ownership” among the members of the group.

Second, does this person look toward the future, and in doing so, develop a plan for dealing with substantive issues which may arise? Are plans based upon adequate access to and application of data, and is the data the best suited for the issues?

Third, is this individual able to motivate colleagues and subordinates? Again, the concept of ownership emerges as a key ingredient toward success; goals upon which a plan is based become group goals, and the success or failure of a plan becomes a group outcome. Involvement in the planning as well as in implementation go far toward providing motivation. We both were aware of examples from the Education field, where there are sometimes “un-motivated” teachers interfering with improvement in student performance. The school’s leadership should make the attempt to involve those persons as part of the decision-making process; otherwise, they should be released to a new career elsewhere. Sometimes there are some efforts made to use Exciting Professional Development Activities as motivators; neither of us has seen this to be an effective means of providing motivation to the un-motivated. Some benefits can be accrued if the individuals are required to demonstrate, in the classroom, their ability to apply the new skills or knowledge to the benefit of student learning. Again, we are skeptical of success.

Fourth, does the person in the leadership role have a good perspective of their responsibilities? Many ineffective administrators see their role as one of being “directors”, and being the sole source of ideas for the organization. Others, highly effective, see that every member of the organization has a role, from the “lowest level” of custodians to the highest level of management, and that each person’s role must be respected by all the members. In that way, a team atmosphere is established and greatly enhances prospects for success. It also aligns quite easily with the previously-mentioned principle of Group Ownership.  By involving all members, the effective administrator can see him or herself as having a role as a support person, one who can make things possible especially with ideas and concepts generated from the organization’s membership. Many times, a worker in a so-called “subordinate position” may in fact be key to the success of the organization—-just ask any school person “who is the person you least want to have absent?” and you’ll always get the answer, “The School Secretary”. No one really cares if the Principal is gone.

In summary, and especially since this is an election year when potential new leaders may try to win your vote, here are some things to look for:

  1. Does this person give the pros and cons of the various options that were considered toward a decision, and explain why the decision was chosen?
  2. Does the person have a plan to deal with future concerns and issues?
  3. What kinds of data are used in making decisions, and is it adequate?
  4. How does this person involve members of the group in order to establish group ownership and involvement in a plan’s success?
  5. Does the person understand that not only must they be able to identify potential problems, they must also realize that a good portion of their responsibilities is devoted to a Support Role, for the members of the group toward adopted goals?
  6. Does this person incorporate input from other members of the group into identification of problems and concerns, and generate plans of action?
  7. Does this person have the ability to “think outside the Box” in order to solve problems?

There remain some further questions: Why are there so few effective leaders? Why do so many people seem content to be Followers? Are there other characteristics we can discover to help us better-identify potential effective leaders? Is a person who is a “Generalist” more effective, having the background to empathize with a broad spectrum of employee responsibilities rather than being too specialized?

Answering these questions may bring us a bit closer to understanding  “The Essence” of Leadership.

             Always Be Happy                   Here’s To Our Youth…With Daily Reminders!

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