Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Once a Leader, Always a Leader?

Going to my 10-year high school reunion this weekend, reminded that about the roles in leadership in adolescence. For some high school was the best years of their lives, while for others high school was something they would love to forget. What is interesting to consider is who were the leaders in high school, and are those still leaders today? If we were born leaders, then wouldn’t we always be leaders?

The Senior Class Officers of the Class of 1999 planned the event. They were elected leaders of the class that year, but were they still leaders today? Who were now the leaders in this class? One of the officers is an orthodontist, another an owner of a Curves gym in Egypt, another a lawyer, one never finished his college degree and was taking side jobs to pay the bills, another didn’t even come out to the event. So were these people still leaders in their community?

While all of them continued to have that charisma that Choi (2006) mentions as a quality of leadership, they did not all have the other qualities of the charismatic leader. They were not showing empathy or empowering others, they seemed to have a vision for their life, but not one to share with others.

The next question I thought to myself was, were they ever really leaders? They held positions of leadership, but that does not qualify them as effective leaders. Did they actually have followers? Did they ever inspire or influence anyone? Were they in a position of power, but not a leader? If this was the case, then they maybe it wasn’t about being a leader, but being charismatic and popular. Now that high school is over and the popularity contest presents itself in limited opportunities, leaders may be able to be identified more clearly for their traits like Choi (2006) and Hackman and Johnson (1991) mention like the ability to envision, empathize, influence, and communicate.

According to Burns (1968), a transformational leader is someone who brings followers up from within. The person who now owns a Curves gym in Egypt was also voted Most Congenial senior year. She was empathetic towards others and did inspire people from her actions and her sentiments. She showed leadership qualities in high school, and seems to continue to be leading others today.

This leads me to believe that she had those leadership traits all along and continues to be a leader growing stronger with experience and expertise, where some of the others only had charisma. Khurana (2002) mentions how we can be blinded by charisma. I believe the combination of charisma with other traits can be a strong leader, but charisma in and of itself can only produce something in the short-term. Eventually there has to be more. According to Sashkin (1989), “the true visionary leader can vision over a time span of 10-20 years” (p. 405). She’s well on her way ten years later.

P.S. I was an SGA Officer. J