This is a question that I will ask students when I start teaching the Leadership in Complex Environments course at UBC Okanagan this coming academic year. My goal is to have the 4th year Faculty of Management students think about, reflect on, and research this question. In doing so my intention is that they will be able to explore the myriad of leadership theories, thinking and styles. Read some of the works of leadership gurus both current and past and at the end of the day, produce their own personal definition of leadership.
In some respects it will be a daunting task as the number of works on the subject are myriad. My role will be to give some structure to the process without being too directive. Students will do most of their work in teams and will be given an opportunity to explore their own leadership abilities, many I assume for the first time. The reality is that we all have leadership within us. It is when we are given the opportunity to explore and discover that innate ability that it is allowed to develop.
Kouzes and Posner in Learning Leadership: The five fundamentals of becoming an exemplary leader (Wiley 2016) reinforce their position that leadership is a learned skill. This is something two of my virtual mentors, Marshall Goldsmith and leadership coach John Maxwell, both agree on. The other truth about leadership, which I have written about before, is that the best leaders are also the best learners. They improve as leaders by “consistently learning about their personalities, relationship and careers” (G. Seijts, 2014, Routledge).
“Leadership is authentic influence that creates value” – Kevin Cashman
Great leadership demands awareness of and openness to ideas and thinking of modern management. But maybe, more importantly is to get to know oneself more deeply and getting to know those around you at a more intimate level. Antoni Cimolino, artistic director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, stated: “There is something to be learned every day, both by looking in the mirror at yourself and by looking at the people around you.” (Good Learners Never Stop Learning, Ivey Business Journal, http://iveybusinessjournal.com/publication/good-leaders-never-stop-learning/). Accepted wisdom used to be that you didn’t get too close to your direct reports; that it wasn’t healthy to know who they really are and their issues. That idea has changed — we see in more and more studies that getting to know your staff and co-workers in fact improves communications, reduces conflict and increases productivity.
“The essence of leadership is not giving things or even providing visions. It is offering oneself and one’s spirit” –Lee Bolman & Terrance Deal
So from an academic perspective, first getting to know where one stands in their own understanding of what leadership is (and possibly what it isn’t) is a good place to begin and a good place to start leading. It is as Cashman stated in Leadership From the Inside Out (Barrett Koehler, 2008): “Most definitions of leadership focus on the outer manifestations of leadership (i.e. vision, innovation, results, drive etc.) instead of getting to the fundamental, essence of leadership itself” (p.23). This is what I hope the students get — their personal essence of the nature of leadership.
John Whitehead, coaches’ individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.
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