What Leadership Means

Fridays are often leadership day here at Faith Venture. This week I ran across an essay by Sally Blount, Dean of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

She was approached by people with differing views on education and leadership. After researching and thinking, she concluded:

When used properly, at least in educational contexts, the word leadership now refers to high character, and the people who are leaders are those who think and act intentionally on behalf of the organizations and communities in which they live and work. They commit to using their lives to engage beyond the self, to engage in the call to human progress, by building up and strengthening the quality of human work and human organizations, rather than tearing them down.

That is a good description of what ought to be. And certainly leaders can be everywhere at any rank or position. It’s like I once quipped to a manager who thought he should be respected solely for his position–you’re respected for who you are not what position you hold.

But Blount looks at the “leadership” in Washington, on Wall Street, and other highly visible places and is disturbed by what she sees.

So, while the word leadership may be overused today, we are still not seeing nearly enough of what it stands for. In my mind, excellence in character shouldn’t be optional for those fortunate enough to be selected or elected to lead from the top. And if we believe in the power of human progress, somebody has to model true leadership—that is, leadership in rank and in character—for the next generation.

She is right to look at our national leadership (broadly speaking) and cringe. But we permit it.

I think leadership examples for the next generations begins with each of us. Lead where you are. In her terms, exhibit character where you are. We don’t need only one model in Washington or in business; we need a hundred million models in every walk of life. Beginning here. Beginning with us.

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