Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Defining Leadership

As stated in a previous post ("Audience Questions"), I created this blog to capture my experiences in the ALA EL program as well as other professional experiences that relate to the topic of leadership.

This statement directs us to the question ... What is leadership?

My hope is that professionals, especially those in the library community, will utilize this blog format to its full potential by providing their own comments ... their own insight into the meaning of "leadership". By using this format in the way it is intended (as a social network inviting professional comments), current leaders can enlighten not only new professionals such as myself but also generations of leaders to come.

Therefore, the goal of this post is to ask the question: "What is leadership?" as well as to provide space for others' responses.

I will not yet comment on this question myself. While I do have some ideas on the topic (some of which I have hidden within these posts and will later reveal), I want to provide the space for others' to share ideas before I lead the conversation.

I expect to post my initial interpretations on the meaning of "leadership" around January 1, 2009. Hopefully, this will provide enough time for me to increase my readership and their participation.

As I participate in the EL program and receive more interpretations via others' comments, I expect to modifiy my initial definition and will post my new thoughts toward the end of 2009.

Thank you for taking time to share your experiences and insight here =) I look forward to your participation!


  1. Before defining leadership, I would like to define what it is to be a leader. Being a leader is more than being in charge and having others who follow what you do. Being a TRUE leader means caring about the work you do, the people that are working with you, the people you are serving, and not only caring about the end result, but the process taken to get to that result. Also, being able to communicate effectively with others, being able to lead in a humble manner, and being able to admit when you've made mistakes or be willing to take advice and ideas from others...these are all key aspects of a good leader. So, with the role of a leader being defined, now carrying out this role would be leadership.

  2. I think it's necessary to have a vision of what you hope to accomplish as a leader, then work with others to carry out that vision. Leadership is, therefore, a vision quest to make realities out of dreams.

  3. Thanks for inviting this discussion on leadership. I have some thoughts on the topic and I would like to share one. Let me call it Behind Leadership . . . no, I don’t mean what is behind leadership, I mean leadership from behind.
    While “leader” is often presented to us as “the one in front” of something; I prefer to think of it as “the one behind.” My concern is that the “out front” leader is too often there for personal, self-aggrandizing, reasons . . . he/she wants to be noticed, she/he wants to be honored . . . these (often self-selected) leaders consider themselves the best, the most qualified, the most talented. Trouble!
    While I understand what this self-centered leader feels from the glow of personal achievement, I don’t feel this is the truest form, or the most lasting form, or the most desirable form, of leadership. Rather, I most admire the leader who has the courage it takes a leader to stand “behind” an issue. The issue is first; not the leader.
    The leader who cares about issues also cares about the people affected by the issues. Issues have real consequences in people’s lives.
    The leader who cares about people listens, and listens carefully. This leader knows she/he( is not/was not/will never be) all knowing. He/she knows that by listening to others powerful ideas and approaches will take shape. The listening leader helps ideas first emerge . . . then converge . . . and finally surge.
    Thus, the real leader’s skill lies in building environments of mutual learning. The real leader builds from below . . . from the substructure . . . not from the top down.
    In this environment of mutual learning, powerful change qualities are fostered. Group members improve communications skills among themselves and those not part of their particular group. Mutual respect is allowed to grow. Confidence matures. Members come to know that “my ideas are not perceived by others as threatening nor am I threatened by new ideas myself . . . in addition, my original idea in not threatened by suggestions for improvement; it is improved!”
    The person in the group who is most unthreatening is the leader. This leader models thinking, rethinking . . . directing, redirecting . . . selecting and choosing . . . left and right. This leader constructs a vision from the best thinking of everyone, for the benefit of everyone, with credit given to everyone.
    Such leadership is difficult. It is time consuming. It may not be satisfying to some leadership styles. But while the authoritarian leader will make all decisions gladly, she/he is likely to make them badly.
    While these reflections about leadership run against the prevailing “leader who leads from out front” model, I think the “leader who leads from behind” model might serve us all much better.

  4. I agree with the previous post regarding "leading from behind" and in fact Nelson Mandala in describing leadership uses the analogy of driving cattle which is done from behind.

    The other analogy that has helped me is that of coach. A coach or leader picks the players, makes sure everyone understands their positions and the team strategy, inspires players to do their best, then gets out of the way and lets them play.

    Leadership requires the ability to see the bigger picture, to consider individual needs but to act in the best interest of the whole. It doesn't always mean being right but it does mean being clear. It requires the emotional intelligence to read people and respond in ways that assuage fears and inspires action. It means acting consistently and fairly in order to build confidence from followers. They have to trust that you will not drive them over the cliff, but will steer them towards the goal confidentally making necessary adjustments along the way.

    Finally, the most effective leaders appreciate the contributions from their teams (true leaders know they do not have to be an expert on everything, but they do need to know how to hire and surround themselves with those who are) and acknowledge those contributions with praise and recognition.

  5. My original thoughts are as already listed. Yet, keeping in mind that your question posted originally regarding "What is Leadership" stems from the fact that you have recently been named as an emerging leader, I will chose to focus on "Emerging". Emerging meaning "up-and-coming"...."potential-to-be"...."new-to-your-field-of-expertise" etc. While you were excited to be recognized as an "emerging leader" for your field, you sounded a bit concerned as to your ability to live up to this title. But emerging means you don't have to be there right now. You will grow in time. Congratulations on beginning this growth by exploring these questions of what leadership is.