On Leadership

I have the privilege to teach graduate students at one of New York's fine educational institutions. I say privilege because one of our fundamental classroom principles is that the students and "teacher" have a responsibility to each other over the course of the semester. Each of us has to learn from the experience.

The classes are in the evening and we've both spent the day working at our professions. We're there because we want to be there.

Over the semester we cover finance and marketing, ethics and management. There is one topic however, that brings engagement and the phrase "lean forward" to real life. The topic is leadership.

These student/professionals are bright, they're ambitious and they have an instinct that something is missing in their daily work environment and perhaps even in their standard curriculum of learning. The missing piece is leadership.

They are aware that we live and work in a time where fundamental forces are changing. They are also aware (think Egypt) that the technology they grew up with is at the heart of so much of the change. They see an opportunity to seize the moment, partly because of their familiarity and innate understanding of things others consider complex and technical. They want to lead -- and they've been taught, actually conditioned, to believe that there's a technique, an app, for that too.

When you study leadership, it's easy to get mired in the traits that make up leadership, the styles, the 10 steps to being an effective leader. And I'm certainly not diminishing the literature; in fact, I've been adding to it. It's critical to have a framework and a set of ideas from which to begin. And like other important parts of our lives that define who we are, leadership characteristics are both inherent and learned.

What we have discovered however, is that those attributes within us need to be triggered, "turned on" by something. What is that something? Very simply, it is the assumption of responsibility. That's the spark. That's what causes the entrepreneur to do what he or she does, the (noble) political leader, the line manager, the captain, the coach. The realization that it's up to me to lead, to achieve the goal for which I am responsible.

Leadership does require intelligence and vision and discipline. But these traits and the techniques to employ them are only useful when we discover and embrace the first principle: that I'm in charge of this outcome.

This can be revelatory in a classroom, or in any other venue we choose. There may be an "app" for leadership, a methodology, but there's an important commitment that comes before its effective use.

This is a subject that impacts us all. What are your thoughts? What should we require of our leaders? What does leadership require of us?

1 comment about "On Leadership ".
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  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 24, 2011 at 2:49 p.m.

    A throw 'em to the wolves for a few years. Later, do it again for awhile. Leaders need to know want their followers need, not just want. There is no better way to understand how an operation works than to be a part of the work including income and that is not possible in the classroom. More respect for the workers will instill more respect from the workers. There is more, but it's a start.

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