What is leadership? LO22013

Sun, 27 Jun 1999 23:24:35 EDT

Replying to LO22007 --

Dear Bill,

What is leadership? That is exactly the question that confronted a group
of faculty I worked with to establish a student leadership program. It
became apparent after several very long, seemingly non-productive meetings
that we could spend our collective lifetimes trying to reach a definition
but in the end, isn't the point of a leadership program to help each
individual discover his/her own definition of leadership within the
context of the life they lead and the situations they encounter? We
decided that it was not appropriate for us to tell students what
leadership is or isn't. We can show them examples and put them into
situations where they will have to find out, but in the end, we needed to
listen very carefully to what they said and what they did and how THEY
defined leadership. Our first team of students -- 13 strangers, including
myself, and most of us novices at backpacking and climbing -- was faced
with a 9-day wilderness experience in which we had to become a team and
get all of us up a 13,000 foot mountain in Yosemite and then get all of us
down. And in between we had to rappel down cliffs, chase bears, ford
rivers, dodge lightning, climb blindfolded, and run a camp and do it all
as a team. Two team members were disabled (and one of those unknowingly
pregnant at the time), to add to the challenge. As it turns out, the
physical challenges were nothing compared to the emotional and
psychological challenges we confronted. We found out that hell is,
indeed, other people and leadership has as much to do with recognizing
limits as it does with pushing them. After that experience, it is hard
for me to talk about leadership in the same way; it is hard for me to
role-play. I saw it, felt it, touched it, and tasted it and it was real.
And it changed the life of every member of that class. I have seen it do
the same for subsequent classes. It's not that leadership can't be
defined, but first, I think it has to be experienced. It is one of the
reasons why our college's leadership program puts the wilderness
experience at the beginning. Once students have undergone that
experience, they have a much better understanding of why they need
communication skills and why trust is so critical. They have a context.
Since then, we have expanded the program to provide the kind of
interpersonal and communication skills that both leaders and followers
need and will be adding an internship so that students can explore what it
means to be a leader in their families, churches, schools, communities --
whatever comprises their world. I know that's not a nice, neat answer to
your question and I have read a lot of books on the subject -- but none of
them really made sense until I had that experience. Harriett.



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