Dr. Val FarmerDr.Val
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

What It Takes To Be A Leader

February 12, 2007

Leaders are not born. They invent themselves. Leadership is collaborative. The strengths of many are combined as leaders and followers seek a common good.

Leadership exists only when there is a consensus of followers. Leadership is a relationship between leaders and followers. Leaders have ideas and vision. They use their persuasive powers to enlist others in that vision and cause.

A leading researcher in the field of leadership, Warren Bennis of the University of Southern California believes that leadership is developed in the crucible of experience that educates and empowers people to be adaptive or creative.

Bennis believes exemplary leaders share six basic competencies: They:

- create a sense of mission

- motivate others to join them on that mission

- make use of followers by involving them in an adaptive social organization

- generate trust and optimism

- develop other leaders

- get results

Theory of leadership. A researcher, psychologist Robert Sternberg of Tufts University, has proposed that leadership is composed of three main qualities: creativity, intelligence and wisdom.

1. Creativity is needed to generate fresh ideas.

2. Intelligence is needed to evaluate if they are good ideas, whether to implement them and to convince others of their worth.

3. Wisdom is needed to consider the common good and the long term consequences of actions.

Creative leadership. Ideas need to be relatively novel, high in quality and effectively address the task at hand. They need to be compelling enough to bring others along and engage in the creative enterprise.

There are many ways of being creative. They run the gamut from being persuasive that the present course of action is the right one, to providing a major redefining of the mission, to combining unrelated or even opposing ideas in a unified and useful way.

Intelligence. Intelligence is the ability to analyze, evaluate and judge ideas and information. Leadership is a special form of expertise that people use when making decisions.

It is filtering relevant information from the irrelevant, applying new information to old information, old knowledge to new problems, or new knowledge to old knowledge. It is combining ideas into new theories.

Intelligence is practical. It puts knowledge necessary to succeed to use in everyday situations. Intelligence is used to adapt to an ennvironment or to shape or change an existing environment or to search for a more favorable environment.

Wisdom. A leader with wisdom uses knowledge for the greater good - not just for one’s own good or in-group. Wise leaders recognize and care about the worth of others. Teams are very important to leaders. They enable leaders to compensate for own weaknesses and to capitalize on others’ strengths.

A wise leader balances one’s interests, the interests of others, organizations and spiritual/moral principles. Leaders align themselves with other groups or organizations for common, worthy purposes.

Wisdom is the ability to identify and use prudent courses of action that promote long term benefits over short term impacts or rewards.

Leader shortcomings. Not all leaders are wise. They may be smart or charismatic but not wise.

Leaders fail because of selfishness, pride, or feelings of invincibility or cleverness. They lose track of their own limitations. They stop learning from others and from their own experiences. They lose their moral compass and come to believe that the ends justify the means.

What leaders have in common. Sternberg makes the following points.

- Leaders defy conventional wisdom, social pressure and use their own judgment when it comes to redefining the problem. Leaders need to be able to deal with criticism, harsh or misguided attacks, or even rejection as they stand by their principles.

- Leaders are willing to analyze the problem to make sure the solution is the best one possible.

- Leaders realize that ideas do not sell themselves. They put effort into persuading others of their value.

- Leaders realize how increased knowledge helps creative thinking. They are learners. They also realize that their own knowledge and expertise may hinder their thinking with tunnel vision.

- Leaders take sensible risks which leads them to success and failure. Failure is embraced as a learning experience. They heed their own experience while actively learning from others’ experiences.

- Leaders show courage in confronting obstacles, doubters and entrenched opposition to their ideas.

- Leaders have self-confidence in their own abilities to measure up to challenges and to see a course of action all the way through.

- Leaders are willing to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. They are patient in waiting for data to confirm or refute whether they are doing the right thing.

- Leaders find abundant rewards for their efforts but stay motivated primarily because of internal beliefs and values.

- Leaders continue to grow intellectually rather than stagnate. Leadership evolves when leaders accumulate experience and expertise. They heed their own experience and learn from the experiences of others.

Leaders don’t exactly invent themselves. Leaders are trained by allowing them to work on real problems in safe environments with explicit support of others.