What exactly IS leadership?

Is the term leadership a euphemism? If so, for\nwhat?


Since about half of America is holding a primary or a caucus today, that\nquestion seemed relevant. I'm not sure most people know what leadership\nis.


I've been listening to what the presidential candidates are saying about\nthemselves and each other over the past few weeks. One of the most interesting\ndiscussions is between John McCain and Mitt Romney over the question of which of\nthem is more qualified to be president. Romney, in a nutshell, says McCain lacks\nsome important basic skills. Romney says that his own Harvard MBA, his business\nresume and his executive experience as a state governor give him the theoretical\nbackground knowledge and the experience needed to fix our government and\neconomy. John McCain's response, basically, is that he doesn't think Romney was\nthat great a governor, and that he can hire someone with a Harvard MBA and some\nbusiness experience to work for him when he becomes president. McCain says that\nRomney's background makes him a manager in a country that needs\nleaders. And (surprise) McCain, of course, thinks of\nhimself as that leader.


Whether you agree with either of them, the discussion provides some\ncontrasting images of just what might constitute leadership. I think that one of\nour problems in education (or in America, for that matter) is that we're not\nsure what leadership is. The fact that two men who both want to be president are\nhaving this discussion seems to indicate that even our leaders don't know\nclearly what leadership is – or at least they don't agree on what it is.\n


I think one of the problems is that leadership, whatever that is, is usually\nonly one component of most administrative jobs. School administrators do have to\nmanage. They also do have to remain educators. As basic as that sounds,\nI've met principals who didn't think it was their job to be an educator anymore.\nThey didn't think they were obligated to keep up with the research or changes in\nbest practices. They thought their job was to manage and that the\nschool had other people who were responsible for all that educational stuff.\nHeck, they'd become a principal partly because they didn't really like education\nvery much!


The corollary to this is simple, but also often overlooked. You don't have to\nbe an administrator to be a leader. In almost every educational environment I've\never been in, some of the most effective leaders weren't administrators; they\nwere just committed educators whose character and values required them to lead.\n


I can't articulate a definition of leadership that satisfies me. I know what\nit isn't. I know it overlaps with many things. But I'm still looking for a\ncrystalline definition. I worry sometimes that because the idea is difficult to\ndefine, people will think it is a euphemism for administration and thus miss the\nreal nature of leadership.


I do know that I don't have to be an administrator to be a leader.\n


Greg Cruey, Guest Blogger


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By and large, she says, people are willing to put up with certain negatives as long as they enjoy who they're working for. When that's just not the case, there's no reason to stick around:

Nine times out of ten, when an employee says they're leaving for more money, it's simply not true. It's just too uncomfortable to tell the truth.

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McMahon offers a few suggestions for those who want to hone their leadership abilities, though it seems that these things are more innate qualities than acquired skills. For example, actually caring about your workers or not depending wholly on HR thinking they can do your job for you.

It's the nature of promotions that, inevitably, a good employee without leadership skills will get thrust into a supervisory position. McMahon says this is a chronic problem that many organizations need to avoid, or at least make the time to properly evaluate and assist with the transition.

But since they often don't, they end up with uninspired workers. And uninspired workers who don't have a reason to stay won't stick around for long.

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