LEADERSHIP, THAT’S ALL

How so you know when an organization will succeed? Seems to me that question is clear. The answer is leadership. I know that seems to be a simplistic answer, but it is not. The traditional description of a leader is someone who is male, tall, has a deep voice and orders people around. There are still people who believe in that kind of leadership.

That description defies all of the historical characters that we know were leaders. I am not discounting a leadership for bad ends either. Rummage through your mind and look at the pictures of leaders in your mind. Do they all fall into that category, or are they not at all what you thought.

Leadership is a many faceted ideal. There are so many kinds of leadership that one could write endless books on the subject (by the way that has already happened). Have you ever been involved in a group activity with a specific outcome in mind? The outcome could be physical or verbal. Aren’t you sometimes surprised when the person who moves the activity along is someone who rarely speaks and when he/she does, the whole group listens.

Having run groups like that for our scholarship programs, it was obvious to us that the students who actually made the groups work, were those with different kinds of strengths. As an example, we had one student who was totally deaf and did not have the advantage working with others who knew sign language. So, all of his actions were not verbal, but were movements with either his face or with a body part. He was so obviously the leader in that group setting, that the group knew that he was the cause of their successful completion of the task.

Check about in your own lives. Think about situations, in your work life or your personal life when someone emerged from the pack to lead. It may even have been you. As you look at yourself, did you think that you had leadership skills? Did you find yourself in a situation when you were really just doing what comes naturally and the end result was something that others wanted to have happen?

Whatever the situation, you were able to help those people who needed a task completed, or needed a new direction, or needed a more positive view of a scenario. In his classic work and Pulitzer Prize winning book, Leadership, James McGregor Burns describes general kinds of leadership styles. His basic premise is that there are two general leaderships- transactional and transformational.

Transactional can be described at giving and getting something. Voting for a political candidate is one of those things. Transformational leadership usually has a moral purpose and contains many elements of followership. It’s more like seeing what a group wants and then getting out in front of them and leading to some positive end.

I can think of two people who exhibited the latter skill in education- Marcus Foster and John Sava. Marcus was the principal of Gratz High School in Philly. He found the school to be atrocious. He went out into the community and asked the folks if they wanted a real high school or just a dumping ground. The answer was clear. They wanted something more than what they had. Marcus then told his staff that he was going to be making some great changes and they could come along if they liked, or they could transfer. Some did transfer. Within one year the school had turned around and became a high school devoted to space science.

John Sava did somewhat the same thing in the Farrell Area School District in Mercer County. He asked the community to give him leave to change the district into something that they could be proud of. He created a place where not only kids could learn, but could also be taught about life. He developed many programs- such as pre-school, teen parenting classes, teaching children how to eat in a mannerly way in the lunchroom and so many other things. He fueled many of these programs with federal dollars. He succeeded in changing the culture.

Are there more stories like that. Of course they are. You may even have seen them yourself, in your business, in your profession in your law practice, in your school and so many other places. What’s even more interesting is the kind of leadership that it takes to do. The leader does not have to be a tall male with a deep voice and a commanding presence. Why I have seen a 13 year old girl does it in a middle school, a 71 year old diminutive woman do it with 500 people in a gymnasium in a rural community, a handicapped man doing it in a wheelchair?

There are as many leadership styles as there are problems to be solved. Look inside and see when you were that leader.

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