Leadership Is Not What I Thought It Was

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“Leadership is not what I thought it was” — this was the comment from one of my students earlier this week as I sat in on one of the small group discussions into which the students break during class time. When I asked her to explain what she meant, she went on to state that after only three classes her concept of what leadership is was shifting; that even after competing just the initial, small amount of assigned research, she was starting to see that there is much more to leadership than what she had experienced so far in her life. The same sentiment was echoed by a few other students over the past week, which got me thinking about our own concepts of what leadership is, isn’t and maybe should be.

Our personal experiences with leaders, which in most cases are managers, colour our expectations. If we have had the opportunity to have different jobs and or roles we have the ability to experience different kinds of bosses. Over time, we get to find out what we like in a boss and what we don’t like. All these things inform our view of what leadership looks like — to us.

Take a moment and look back over your own experiences. Who was the best boss you ever had, and why? Who was the worst; again, why? How has that person coloured your view of leadership? Maybe your experiences have been so bad that you can’t even equate the role of manager with leadership. Or if you’ve been fortunate enough to have had only good, positive experiences, this, too, will have influenced your view of how leaders behave. My hope is that you have had a mix of experiences, both positive and negative, that have given you good insight as to what works and what does not. Then again, maybe you have never thought of it at all in this way. Whatever your experiences have been, I hope you take a minute to consider this issue.

In reality, leadership is different things to different people, which is why I shy away from a single definition of leadership. Yes, I have my own concept of what leadership is and looks like, but I allow others to have their own, based on their experiences. I also recognize that one’s concept and definition of leadership can change, shift, expand or contract depending on any given situation. If I were to ask you for your personal definition of leadership, how would you answer? What experiences would you draw on; what readings and research would you cite? Who in your life has been the greatest influence?

Over the past two-plus years I have written and published over 70 posts on Leadership and Leadership development. Click here to access my Leadership series directory:

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John Whitehead, coaches’ individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.

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