Monday, September 14, 2009

Leaders Can't Ignore Lessons in Leadership

In case you like driving down 21st avenue blindfolded and haven't realized it, we have been deemed the best education school in America by U.S. News and World Report. Who could be surprised by our intelligent, creative, and inspired student body hosted by a faculty of charming, knowledgeable academics? We students seek out challenge and demand success. And for our newest challenge: studying the theory of leadership and the behavior it produces.

What a scientific proposition! The tone of it seems nearly biological. On the face of things - both in word and in deed - we have not received any lecture or read any text regarding how to lead. Our readings have depicted the evolving views of leadership through time, from an original acceptance of Great Man Theory to a nearly opposite view that leadership is a behavior dependent on applying knowledge and skill in the right circumstance. We have begun to discuss whether there is such a thing as a born leader and whether leadership itself can be taught.

Throughout our lectures and readings, I have done my best to internalize the idea that, again, we are learning about leadership and not how to lead. So is it just me or do we all feel a tug from every assignment that as scholars of leadership behavior we ought to nevertheless consider our own leadership abilities? Who could read Zaleznik's Managers and Leaders: Are they Different? and not wish for oneself the regal title of "leader" over the timecard-punching, paper pushing "manager?"

I have come to appreciate and enjoy the dichotomies present throughout so many of our readings. Not only Leader vs. Manager, but Born vs. Made, Theory X vs. Theory Y, the Authority of Position vs. the Authority of Leadership (according to Barnard, these last two are not necessarily opposed but do not always coexist). As I consider each of these elements, I am sensitive to the fact that while I would like to remain objective, I simply cannot read such words without picking sides and thus trying to glean from them a lesson in leadership. In other words, although we study leadership behavior, this behavior is something that we can relate to. We may try to keep an arm's length and study leadership behavior as though we were studying the behavior of a newly discovered creature, yet our innate relationship to the material seems to make such neutrality impossible.

So here we are, a collection of students of varied ages, backgrounds, and programs of study. Yet in class it feels like a room full of leaders. And as hard as we try to remain objective, and as much as this class is not about learning how to lead, I would like to say that I believe many, if not all of us, will learn a thing or two about proper leadership from the underlying lessons in leadership that I feel are undoubtedly present in our readings and lecture.

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