When you see somebody develop and come into his own, you feel like you did something worthwhile. ~ Gregg “Pop” Popovich, San Antonio Spurs head coach
When I saw this quote a few months ago, I shared it with my Facebook friends along with the comment that this basically sums up my attitude about what good leadership looks like. Good leadership is entirely about developing others and contributing to an environment where people can be fully realized in their abilities, an environment where we can live our lives with our souls intact.
I’ve been a leader for a long time. I started leading groups of children when I was still a young teenager, transitioning into adult leadership roles with greater responsibility as my skills and understanding increased. I grew up in a pastor’s home, so I’ve seen that variety of leadership from behind the façade of the public face most pastors (or other public facing leaders) end up wearing. In my career I’ve been both a pastor and a leader in the corporate world. I am one of those women who was labeled “bossy” as a child so I understand very well the complicated relationship our culture has with the idea of female leaders. I’ve also experienced first-hand the complicated relationship women have with the idea of being leaders.
Historically our culture has embraced a picture of leadership that says being a good leader is about being “in command,” that being a leader is about being the person with the most power. Organizations and communities embracing the “command and control” type of leadership place a high emphasis on conformity to established standards and directing independent thought. A “command and control” type of leadership can certainly be efficient in accomplishing tasks, but it struggles to effectively develop a diverse spectrum of people and perspectives.
In our current era we’ve begun to equate profitability with leadership, choosing to believe that the ability to make the most money is a defining qualification for leadership and proof of a leader’s effectiveness. Profitability isn’t a bad thing. A thriving community or organization must have resources to support it, and a profitability-focused leadership style could be expected to provide ample resources to meet those organizational needs. The problem is that once you embrace profitability as the identifying characteristic of leadership, equating having money with retaining power, it’s the rare leader who is able to freely and generously release those resources.
Lately there have been some spectacular leadership failures playing out in the public arena. Leaders of large church organizations have lost their position and titles after accusations of bullying, misogyny and intimidating behaviour. Leaders of large universities have been asked to resign by the board of regents, not because of falling academic standards, but because they weren’t producing profits quickly enough. I have also seen some leadership failures playing out in smaller spaces that never make it to the national news headlines, with people left feeling disenfranchised in some cases and in others never even knowing they’d been denied opportunities by decisions made behind closed doors.
I’ve decided to write about leadership because I care about leading well, and because I’ve watched far too many women assume they aren’t capable of nor interested in leading. Sometimes this is because they were taught they shouldn’t lead, sometimes it’s because they didn’t want to replicate the leadership styles they’d seen, and sometimes it’s been both. My focus will be on the practical aspects of leadership, and expanding the perspective that everyone, absolutely everyone, has the ability to lead. Leadership happens with or without a title, and with or without permission. On Thursdays I’ll be devoting this space to talking about different aspects of what it means to be a leader, what characteristics accompany good leadership, what the relationship is between leadership and hierarchy and how that impacts our picture of leadership, and exploring other questions I know will come up along the way. I’m looking forward to the discussion.