Through the instigation of my current master’s course, I have been analyzing and evaluating the characteristics of a great leader. What makes a leader “great”? How do great leaders lead? What is my personal philosophy of leadership? What is my personal mission statement? This morning, I am specifically looking at five questions regarding leadership.
As I contemplate various aspects of leadership, the first question that I am evaluating this morning has been asked by many throughout history. Namely, “Are leaders born or made?” As I reflect on this question, I am reminded of a children’s movie that enamored me as a little girl about the Biblical story of Esther. The title of the movie, “Esther: The Girl Who Became Queen,” produced by Veggie Tales gave me one of my first tastes of leadership philosophy. The wise Uncle Mordecai inspires the ordinary girl Esther to be courageous with the quote, “A wise man once said not to be afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” (To view the movie trailer, click on this link http://youtu.be/cle8UhSEbNs). I remember even as a little girl mulling over this statement posed to one of my favorite heroines. Was I born great? Would I achieve greatness? Would greatness be thrust upon me? As an adult, I still have not fully identified my answer; however, if possible, I would currently like to select “All of the Above.”
According to an article written by Daniel E. Maltby, Ph.D. for Biola University’s Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership Department, leaders are both born and made. Maltby argued that leaders have had both upbringings and later experiences in life which together form the makings of a good leader. He cites John Kotter’s survey of two hundred executives at highly successful companies to support his own theory that it is a person’s experiences as well as genes and childhood that form leadership skills. Kotter “concluded that early in their careers his leaders had opportunities to lead, to take risks and to learn from their successes and failures.” Maltby’s article “Are Leaders Born or Made?: The State of Leadership Training Today” can be read online at http://www.biola.edu/academics/professional-studies/leadership/resources/leadership/bornormade/.
My conclusion is simple: Leaders are individuals who choose to take advantage of the opportunities given to them, overcome the obstacles placed in their path, and rise to greatness through planning and perseverance. I believe that great leaders work at leading. They are their own worst critics. In doing so, they constantly strive to improve themselves and their leadership skills. So, whether born or made, I believe that leaders are those who inspire their followers with their own determination, failings, successes, and courage.
The second question that I am analyzing this morning is in regards to the origins of a leader, specifically “Can anyone be a leader?” As a history teacher, I can easily list good and bad leaders who were for all intents and purposes unlikely candidates. Moses was a political refugee with a stutter who led the infantile nation of Israel for over forty years in desert conditions. Jesus Christ was a carpenter’s son from the Roman-ruled land of Judea who left a lasting impact on all future generations. Hitler was a high school drop-out who lodged in a mental hostel at one point who later united the German people under his propaganda. Another high school drop-out, Billy Sunday went on to become one of the most influential evangelists in American history during the early 1900s.
As demonstrated, I believe that “nobodies” can become “somebodies.” However, this does not necessarily mean that anyone will become a good leader, simply that they can, in fact, become one. Phillip Van Hooser, an expert in leadership performance and development, believes that anyone can become a leader. In his video “Can Anyone Be a Leader?,” Hooser commented that leaders are individuals who choose to change themselves before changing their followers or environments. He also said, however, that many people take advantage of leadership positions and destroy the trust placed in them. (Hooser’s video is available for viewing at http://youtu.be/Wd9qLjV_9Ac).
The question “Can anyone be a leader?” is perhaps not the most effective question to ask. More importantly, I believe that individuals struggling with their calling should more pointedly be asking the questions, “How can I become a good leader? How can I wield principle-centered power? How can I develop the trust of my followers?” Leaders are not just the individuals at the head of large corporations. Leaders are also the soccer moms with four kids, the cashiers with daily customer interaction, and the Sunday school teachers with classrooms full of rowdy children. A hilarious video of a “shirtless dancing guy” demonstrates how anyone can become a leader. View this link http://youtu.be/fW8amMCVAJQ for both a good laugh and an honest assessment of what it takes to become a leader. As this video points out, all a “lone nut” needs to become a leader is one follower willing to mimic his actions.
The third question that I am considering is “How are we all in this together?” Basically, how do we all play a role in this journey that we call “life” and this adventure that we call “reality”? When trying to answer this question, I believe that it is first important to recognize that most people do not sit down and analyze, “Am I a leader? If so, what and how do I lead? Am I a follower? If so, what and how do I follow? Am I a manager or some other role in between? How do I do that?” Rather, we simply are what we are. At the same time, my personal experience reveals that we all fill all of these roles in some context in our lives. Take, for example, one my middle school students. The typical 13-year-old is a follower of many things: bands, actors, fashion, sports, peer groups, authority figures, etc.. This same 13-year-old is also, however, a self-proclaimed and/or accidental leader of younger students, friends, environments, clubs, teams, etc.. This student is being affected by and is affecting multiple spheres of influence.
In addition, we are all “in this together” not only in the definition of our roles, but in the interdependence of our relationships. We are not robots with one programmed purpose in life, but rather emotional and spiritual beings who live in communities characterized by relationships requiring trust regardless of whether or not one is a leader or a follower in the relationship. The
“Interdependence Theory” is visually portrayed by a student’s homemade video available for viewing at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxnDc3s8V-A. This video’s message brings images to life with the reminder that interdependence brings “cooperation (wanting to maximize both outcomes),” “altruism (selflessly providing for the other),” and “nihilism (wanting to minimize both outcomes)” for both parties involved. Basically, as the student-author scripted, people must be “both satisfied and dependent” for the relationship to work. Although this video was specifically crafted in the context of romantic relationships, I believe that the same principle of interdependence holds true in any relationship – husband/wife, leader/follower, teacher/student. People must be mutually committed to a relationship of any kind for it to reach its maximum potential for effectiveness.
At an even more basic level, there wouldn’t be leaders if followers didn’t exist and vice versa. There must be one person affecting change in a situation and others following in the wake of those changes. This video clip produced by TVOParents and hosted by parenting expert Alyson Shafer (available for online viewing at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8ApU-wNGbw&feature=results_main&playnext=1&list=PLF5FD3FC083F6BB39) entitled “Preschoolers and Leaders and Followers” shows initial leadership and following traits being practiced by developing toddlers. Even at young ages, leaders emerge who get to be “bossy” and followers emerge who both butt heads and submit to the authority of their peers. It is an interesting perspective on the interdependent relationships fostered from childhood and continued into adulthood.
The fourth question that I am analyzing this morning is “What is the relationship between leaders, managers, and followers?” This question shares many similar points with the previous question regarding interdependence; however, there are still several distinct differences that are worth noting. According to Stephen R. Covey (1992) in his book Principle-Centered Leadership, leaders are the vision-casters of an organization (p. 244). Leaders instigate the creation of the organization’s mission statement, then make sure that the mission statement is integrated into everything that the organization does. Leaders direct the big picture. In contrast, managers direct the small picture. They are more product-orientated, and they make sure that the organization is functioning and producing according’s to the leader’s vision. According to Covey (1992), “Leadership focuses on the top line. Management focuses on the bottom line. Leadership derives its power from values and correct principles. Management organizes resources to serve selected objectives to produce the bottom line” (p. 246). In my experience, followers are then the team players that actually accomplish the goals. They make the bottom line possible. They receive inspiration from the organization’s vision and work to produce the products based on the leader’s vision and the manager’s detailed directions.
According to leadership developer and life coach Easter Becker-Smith, another distinction that can be drawn between leaders and managers is that leaders “lead people,” while managers “manage things.” She pointed out in her video “The Simple Difference Between Leadership and Management” that the higher up the corporate ladder someone climbs, the more people skills the individual will require. This is not to say that managers don’t need people skills; rather, managers are allowed to be more task-orientated than leaders. Leaders must use excellent communication skills to direct an organization. To view Coach Beck-Smith’s video, go to this online link http://youtu.be/ofHFghVhKQw.
According to an article entitled “Leadership vs. Management: What are the Characteristics of a Leader and a Manager” published online through Coach4growth.com, “While a manager receives their authority based on their role, a leader’s authority is innate in their approach.” This aligns with the idea that the most effective leaders employ principle-centered power to inspire their followers and empower their managers. Managers are enabled by the vision and communication of the leader. Followers are inspired by their leaders and organized by their managers. To view the Coach4growth.com’s article in its entirety go to the following link: http://coach4growth.com/leadership-skills/leadership-vs-management-what-are-the-characteristics-of-a-leader-and-a-manager.
The final question of the day has to do with perspective, specifically “How does the general public view leaders?” This is a tricky question. Unfortunately, I believe that the title and role of “leader” has been abused, and many people don’t look kindly on their leaders. From political cartoons to pop culture’s attitude of disrespect towards authority, leadership is often ridiculed and criticized. Some of this criticism is deserved, while other remarks are the simply the result of a culture that does not place much trust in its leaders. A good example of a disenchanted view-point is portrayed in the TV show “The Office.” The main character, Michael Scott, comments in the clip entitled “The Office: Michael Explains the Word Boss” that title “boss” has become synonymous with “jerk-in-charge.” Go to this link to view the short TV clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lG54HSGuidQ&feature=related. All too often, people view leaders from this biased perspective.
However, this disenchanted viewpoint is not always and should not be the perspective espoused by the general public. Some leaders work hard to break the mold of the stereotypical “jerk-in-charge” profile. For example, President Ronald Reagan was beloved by most of the American public for his excellent communication skills and caring attitude. He cast his vision everyday through a radio broadcast in which he would relate to the day-to-day lives of his followers. Princess Diana was loved by the British people because she related to them and affected change in society with everyone’s best interest in mind. She served the people and quite obviously loved her country. Reagan and Princess Di are just two examples of leaders that led with vision and empathy, inspiring respect among their followers.
This short video cliphttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHZ3tqM2J3k&feature=related entitled “What is Leadership” is a good summary of the perspective that great leaders should inspire in their followers. This video was created for leaders at a leadership workshop and speaks directly to the role that leaders play in society. It is a motivational video for all current and future leaders to view, as they strive to be the type of leader that inspires respect and change.