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Leadership might not be what you think October 21, 2011

Posted by Chris Garbutt in Leadership.

When thinking of a leader, who comes to mind? To a sports fan, it’s an athlete with a C on their chest. To a little kid, it’s probably a parent or an older sister or brother. To an employee, it could be the boss, team leader or a senior employee. I’m sure you can come up with many more examples, and they most likely are people with very different set of skills.

James MacGregor Burns once said: “leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth”. Before the 20th century, not much literature had been devoted to leadership, but with the advent of management sciences and social psychology, extensive research has been done on the subject. However, one of the problems with “scientific” studies has been the lack of definition of the subject: what is leadership? Phillip Selznick defined leaders as people that “infuse values and purpose into a group.” Since then, anthropologists, historians, political scientists and sociologists have contributed to literature on leadership, and research has shown that the idea that leadership is limited to a select few individuals is a myth – there is no defined gene or set of genes for leadership. It definitely is not something mystical, because leadership is an observable, learnable set of practices.

Something leaders do have in common is self-confidence, a trait that comes from learning about ourselves – our skills, values, talents, and shortcomings. Formal training and education can help, but they are insufficient. Look at Richard Fuld, for example: the former CEO of Lehman Brothers in the U.S. was voted the #1 CEO in 2006, considered a leading expert in hedge funds, yet in 2008 failed as a leader to save his 158-year-old company when it fell over the brink of bankruptcy.

Those that become the best leaders take advantage of a wide range of opportunities: they try, fail, and learn from their mistakes. The student that did not do as well as they wished on a midterm, because they didn’t take the course seriously enough or did not figure out how to organize their time, learned from that experience and excelled on the final exam. That student was then able to transfer their skills to team members in a group project, leading them to success – has this ever been you or someone you know?

Leadership development, then, is self-development. And leadership is about empowering others, because as the group members become more empowered, self-confidence ensues, and the self-confidence and power of the whole group is increased.

– Redon Hoxhaj, Communications Assistant, Office of Student Life


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