Friday, February 4, 2011

thinking about leadership

The title of this blog is "thinking about leadership" - so just how often do you think about leadership and what is it you are thinking about? I was recently asked the question about how my various academic degrees have prepared me for a position of leadership, so I actually had to do some thinking about leadership. I was talking with a colleague about a cermaics class he is teaching, and as he described how his best students work with their clay, it brought to mind a picture of good leadership and I began once again to think about leadership. Sitting around and catching up on journals this past Sunday evening had me reading about higher education, and most articles I read had me thinking about leadership. Having coffee with a friend and mentor had me thinking about leadership. At my most recent College of Business Advisory Board meeting, I began thinking about leadership. So why is this important?

I have met way too many people that just lead - and believe they have all the answers because they have experienced leadership. One of my colleagues keeps referring to a book (yes "a" book which I assume means one) that they read on leadership and nows acts as if they have all the answers. Others think that leadership is something one is born with and therefore that person will naturally have all the answers and know how to lead. Still others who were elevated into a leadership position many years ago now pontificate as if they are the experts on leadership. I wonder if these people ever really THINK about leadership.

It amazes me how many times in a given day or week I pause to consider the concept of leadership. As I drive in the car, my mind wanders to how one led that day, or the decisions I made in a leadership role, or what might be done better to lead my institution. As I read various books (mostly NOT on leadership), I begin to contemplate what that particular tome is telling me about leadership, though often indirectly. As I interact with people, ideas of leadership pop in my head that I can bounce off of them. Watching people lead gives me the ability to critically reflect on why they did what they did, and what I might have done differently in that given situation.

So how does one become the type of person who thinks about leadership on a regualr basis?
  • develop leadership lenses - whatever you read or observe, ask the question about how that might inform your own leadership ideas
  • ask quetions - when talking with others, ask them why they made the decisions they did, trying to understand how they lead
  • wonder outloud - in conversation (or in your own head) ask the "what if?" question that gets at the heart of the matter of different viewpoints or ideas
  • read widely - don't just read leadership books (though it is important ot read many of those). I especially encourage good fiction to broaden one's mind in terms of thinking about leadership. I also encourage browsing the magazine shelves at bookstoes and picking up issues you have never read to discover new ways of thinking about leadership
  • interview really cool people - I have often said the best part of my job is that I get to meet really cool people. Find someone who interests you, set a time to meet them for a cup of coffee, and just pick their brain, especially on leadership topics
  • watch moves - and ask the question of yourself what it might be saying about leadership
  • observe - watch leaders and the decisions they make, and then think about why they made those decisions. Consider alternatives, going back to the "what if?" questions
  • journal - while this is not a strong suit of mine, I know that putting one's thoughts down on paper on a regular basis (some call it blogging) can help in making lucid the multiple ideas running through one's head
  • develop a spirit of humility - I teach my students to be able to use the phrase "I might be wrong..." because if they can embrace that attitude, they can become lifelong learners. Realize now that you actully know very little about leadership (even if you have forgotten more about leadership than most people will ever know) and become a lifelong student of the topic

I love thinking about leadership - I probably do it even when I am not thinking I am thinking about leadership - it becomes natural for me - and it is always somethining I am pursuing to a deeper level. I invite you to join me in thinking about leadership - and take your leadership to a new level.

No comments: