Leadership: How I See It

November 24, 2015

One of the first questions my fellow faculty have asked about my seeking positions of leadership is “why do you want to do this”? I can’t write their tone of voice, so you will have to imagine their incredulousness mixed with suspicion. So, why do I want to “be” a leader?  Firstly, I would beg to rephrase this. I don’t think I can be a leader. I know that if people put their faith in me, I become their leader. This means that the first element of my philosophy of leadership is that I need the help of those around me to become the leader I would like to be. This help comes when I listen carefully to the people who have asked me to lead. A given in this element of my philosophy is that leadership is not something you can take from others. This is especially true in the academic context. Many people are drawn to academics because they have a unique and powerful vision of the world that they want to experience and share. People with unique and powerful visions are not helpless sheep waiting for someone to come and “take” the position of leadership. Listening to their vision, helping them to see a common vision, holding that common vision constantly before them so that everyone can see it, that is an act of leadership. I have used my skills in seeing from the perspectives of others, seeing a possible common future and holding the vision of that future out to others in a compelling way to provide leadership, often as act of service to the person who has been asked to become the leader and who needs this common vision to help the group choose how to respond to an external imperative and then make this choice a reality.

Considering this, I would further rephrase the question to ask “why do I want to serve as a leader”? I see that the second element of my philosophy of leadership is that leading is an act of service, a service offered in love. I love my discipline, and for this reason, I will serve as a leader.  I love my fellow faculty, I will serve them by leading them. I see that the values of the university are bent towards providing meaningful life change for people that I care about, the students, I will serve as a leader to protect those values. We know that this service is implicit when we speak of humility as a desirable quality of leadership. The service element of my philosophy creates a tension that is important to recognize. It is true that my fellow faculty are skeptical of everyone in leadership in academia because they see that management is in many ways at odds with the life that academics are seeking and they recognize that I love the role of faculty member. However, it is also true that my fellow faculty recognize that serving as a leader in the academic context is to accept many hours of challenging and often uninspiring work that could separate me from things that I love, such teaching the students or contributing to the knowledge of my field, as service that subordinates the individual desire for the good of the group.  This leads to the third element in my philosophy of leadership

The group, the others are inherent in my vision of leadership and I just don’t feel comfortable with the idea of calling these others “followers”. Like Orpheaus, the risk of asking others to “follow” you is that some may not be close enough behind for you to know they are still with you. I am willing to serve as a leader because I am willing to listen for guidance about what is best for a group of people who are working towards goals that support my personal values. The presence of these others, the success of their mission, the health of their lives as academics, the quality of the work they contribute, for me, all of these things make serving as a leader possible. This element of my philosophy does place an important constraint on my leadership. I need to be right in the middle of people I would serve as a leader, to be surrounded by representatives who speak to their vision of future. I have spent years making my own vision a reality, I am eager to take those skills and make the visions of others a reality too.


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