Friday, January 3, 2014

Reflections on Leadership in a New year

In a recent flurry of office tidying during this quiet time between semesters I came across a reflective essay on leadership, entitled 'Leadership as a Caring Activity,' that I had written some fourteen years ago.  As I read it with more mature eyes I found myself both challenged and satisfied with how well I have lived up to the lofty goals of leadership set forth in this essay of my relative professional youth. 

I have decided to keep this essay handy as a reminder of what I felt then to be, and still feel to be, the essence of leadership.  It is a fitting New Years Resolution for 2014, if you will.  The essay describes leadership as an exercise in empathy, commitment, compassion, and intentionality.

An excerpt from the concluding section will give the reader a feel for the content of the essay.  For the more curious or hardy souls, I will be happy to share the full essay, too lengthy to post here.  Just send an e-mail request to if you would like to see the full essay.

"These are high aspirations that I have written about.  But they are at the same time daily possibilities.  As much as anything, leadership is about such daily possibilities.  We have opportunities today, tomorrow, and the next day to lead.  Some of those days we will take the opportunity and some we will not.  Opportunities to care are just that - opportunities - they are not mandates or requirements.  My own experience of leadership is that on some occasions leadership is an opportunity, on some it is a challenge, and on some it is sheer obligation.  The moments of leadership through obligation rely on the moments of leadership as opportunity as a guide; the moments of leadership as opportunity rely on moments of leadership through obligation as a rehearsal and a reminder - of why it is important to lead and what good leadership feels like. 

Perhaps what I need to learn most, like most humans, is the ability to sustain and consistently practice the type of leadership that I have described here.  To do so requires adequate self-care around issues of emotional and physical health.  It also requires a commitment to the other and to the ethical ideals of caring.  Here I am reminded of a recent e-mail exchange with a former student, wherein he expressed the hope that things were 'complacent' at the college in his absence (he had been one to address issues directly and felt, I think, that his departure had probably made the college an easier place to be).  My response was to say 'complacent, no; some days I wish for complacent, but most days not.'  This defines the leadership challenge - to welcome the absence of complacency and to embrace opportunities to lead."

I wish us all a non-complacent Spring 2014 and many opportunities to embrace leadership roles as we continue our important work together.

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