What is Leadership?

So I have been taking a class on leadership in higher education this semester. It is one of the courses required for doctoral students in the higher ed program here and I have thoroughly enjoyed the environment. We have discussed the evolution of leadership using Peter Northouse’s textbook, Leadership: Theory and Practice to frame our discussion.

I bring all of this up for one important question: What is leadership?

Everyone has their understanding, whether it be framed by theories like the Great Man theory, Situational Leadership Theory, or Transformational Theory, or from experience. This experience can come from actually sitting in and practicing these situations or from something more like Leadershape, UIFI, ILEAD, or even the Shelton Challenge. We have spent years going in circles, believing there are certain traits that leaders have, shifting to focus on how to train leaders, then viewing how leaders adjust to and work with environments and followers to achieve outcomes, only to move back to the belief that leaders demonstrate certain traits. We look for a certain belief that leadership can be taught. I, however, would like to offer a different idea: leadership must be developed. What I mean is that leadership is far too complicated to simply be taught.

One of the things we did in our class was a lot of reading and resource review. We watched the following video about four women who served as provosts at Yale and then positions at other ivy league colleges.

It is a long, yet excellent video. A key theme is that none of them sought the titles they came to hold. They simply went out to be the best they could be. There is also a lot of other reading you can do from “What Makes a Good Leader?” to “Seeking a Different Sort of Leader” which discuss some of the intricacies of seeking a leader.

So what is Leadership?

To me, leadership is something fluid, changing based on situation, environment, followers, and outcomes. It is too complicated to merely be taught or broken down into a single theory, but must be developed through practice, discussion, teaching, and reflection. It is a convergence of factors that all affect people. And there are different ways to be a leader in the exact same situation. It is something we continually strive for, whether conscious or not, in order to change the world around us.

What is leadership?

Leadership is human. Leadership is community. Leadership is effort.

Leadership is more than I can fully describe in any blog post.

So, what do you think?


About rigsurfer

A Brother of Delta Upsilon International Fraternity, Inc., Joined in Fall 2010. Completed a B.A. in English at North Carolina State University in 2013 and received a M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration at Texas Tech University in 2015. Passionate about Leadership and Diversity as well as Ducks, Scooby Doo, and reading.
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