What is Leadership?

Punita RiceCareer

What is leadership?

One of the best leaders I have worked (a former supervisor) exhibited many leadership competencies. Two major, specific competencies stood out: (1) she was highly professional — in demeanor, communication, and even in dress, and (2) she was very hands-on and personally involved in tasks she expected from our team. I think her leadership has impacted my current definition of strong leadership: being the “go-to person” for your team.

Being the go-to person means that you outline clear objectives and goals for your team, anticipate their needs, provide them with either the necessary resources, or the information for fulfilling their goals, and provide them with necessary guidance and support. It also means you should be willing to be in the trenches with them — and ideally, be well-versed in the thing they are doing. I also imagine a good leader as a person who is extremely professional. This does not necessitate the wearing of suits to meetings, but does necessitate valuing confidentiality, maintaining structure, and holding oneself to a high standard. This, along with being the go-to authority for a team, are important components of leadership. Here are some more thoughts…

I wasn’t able to include an image in my original response, but the image that came to mind when I mentioned a leader being in the trenches with her team was the one of a good leader working with their team to pull something heavy, as opposed to one who sits down and orders the team to do the heavy lifting.

The class in which I had this discussion is called Leadership in Educational Organizations, so obviously, we’ll be learning much more about this topic. I think the point of this pre-session prompt (as with all pre-assessments) is so we could discuss what our existing perceptions and ideas of good leadership were, with the expectations that we would all have different ideas and perceptions, and of course, that those ideas and perceptions would likely change over the course of this semester (after all, it’s a course on leadership!). To that point:

“There are almost as many different definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept (Bass, 1981)”

So, yeah — everyone’s answers are correct. But now that we’re firmly in the first actual content week, my own ideas about leadership is already changing. The goal of the course is to “attempt to create and/or refine [our] own definition of leadership,” since “increased knowledge of leadership theory will support [our] ability to think critically, creatively, and strategically about the practice of leadership; understand the implications of context on leadership practice and potential outcomes of [our] leadership decisions or behaviors; and the impact of [our] leadership decisions and behaviors on the individual, the group, and/or the system.” This semester, “we will explore the impact of decisions, behaviors, and interaction with others on leadership roles, functions, and responsibilities in order to increase our awareness of our intentions, contexts, and anticipated outcomes.”

While leadership can be difficult to define, and may represent different things to different people, there are some consistent themes we’ll be exploring this semester, including the “transformational leadership model,” through which leaders set a direction and help others to do the right thing to move forward, by creating an inspiring vision, and then motivating and inspiring others to fulfill that vision. In other words, good leaders make things happen.

In addition to exploring Western leadership theory and studying leadership concepts, our course will focus on three major skills: meta-cognitive skills involving self-reflection, emotional management of feedback, and self-regulation. So as this course unfolds, we the participants will be working to develop our ideas of what a good leader is, so we can become better leaders ourselves (as our professor said, “you must become the leader you wish to find in your world”). So… the important question to answer this summer is: what is good leadership?

(Image from here.)