Each industry studies ideas that are relevant to its success. Teachers, principals, and superintendents are invested in learning about the most effective instructional strategies to help young people. Philosophy asks questions about the meaning of life and love. While some topics are significant to certain fields, others are applicable to virtually all disciplines. Perhaps most notably, leadership has been examined from multiple viewpoints including business, education, and religion.
The following statement has been attributed to Charles Spearman (d. 1945), a British psychologist who contributed to the contemporary understanding of human cognitive ability: intelligence is a word with so many meanings that finally it has none. In other words, given the different conceptualizations of this somewhat nebulous construct, what do we really know about intelligence? In some respects, the same is true about leadership. While this blog does not fully capture what leadership is, I hope to offer some additional perspective on this concept.
AN ANALOGY FROM SPORTS: LEADERSHIP ADVANCES THE GAME
While many leaders are driven to succeed and solve the problems that are facing their organizations, leadership is not about winning. Unlike competitive sports, leadership is more than scoring a touchdown or being the first person to cross the finish line.
Through the lens of basketball, leadership is not limited to the person who makes the shot. Importantly, leadership also includes those that assist the player who ultimately scores. Whereas the shooting guard is responsible for making the basket, the point guard is a pivotal position that coordinates the team’s offense by ensuring the ball gets to the right player at the right time. In the same manner, leaders appreciate the big picture and strategically allocate resources (e.g., people, money, time) for the maximum benefit. Rather than being preoccupied with scoring, leadership focuses on playing whatever role is necessary to advance the game.
AN ANALOGY FROM RESEARCH: LEADERSHIP CONTRIBUTES ONE BRICK, BUT DOES NOT BUILD THE ENTIRE HOUSE
Metaphorically speaking, research is akin to building a house. Specifically, a single research study does not answer every question; it is not trying to build the entire house. Instead, quality research adds one brick to the structure. Like astute researchers, effective leaders understand what has already been accomplished in a particular area and what should happen next. What does the field need to know to grow in its understanding of a certain phenomenon? Which brick should be laid to continue building the house? In fact, if researchers and leaders do anything particularly well it’s not that they have all of the answers or solve every problem. More importantly, they ask the right questions to inform their next step.
Despite what we’ve heard about leadership, it is more than outcomes. Though important, leadership is more than getting the job done and turning dismal situations into successes. Never to be understated or overlooked, leadership is a process. Like a point guard on a basketball team, or a researcher who works diligently to uncover more information about a pressing problem, leadership is about moving a cause forward.
Friends, be encouraged. No pressure: we don’t have to do it all. No fear: we don’t have to know it all. Having been given the opportunity to serve, leadership is the ability to leave people, places, and situations better than we found them.