As one gets older, and perhaps more cynical, there is a tendency to reflect on things we hold dear or believe to be important, running a critical eye over what we are seeing in the broader community and forming a judgement. One such issue of importance to me is leadership.
Leadership in one form or another appears to induce regular commentary in the media. Leadership of the country, leadership in the Australian cricket team, good leaders within a footy team or examples of poor leadership and how it brought about the demise of a particular group or entity. Leaders can get blamed when things don’t go as planned or as expected, and sometimes rightfully so, but they can also be credited for successes of a team, business or even a school, sometimes without warrant.
Rightly or wrongly, this is what being a leader involves, and for this reason we made the decision a number of years ago here at Salesian College Chadstone to incorporate leadership development for all boys, strong in the belief that all of them at some point in their lives will need to demonstrate leadership in one form or another. We incorporated it into our Oratory personal development program to ensure all our graduates were given the opportunity to grow as leaders. This form of leadership development has not always been a strong suit in schools. Whilst most schools have programs in place for their elected or formal student leaders, it is not common practice to run programs for all. The commitment we made seems to be paying off in a number of ways, none more so than in the way that our Student Congress has developed over the past few years.
Last Wednesday, I had the privilege of participating in one of the best, if not the best, Student Congress meetings I have experienced in my thirty years in Catholic Education. I sat in awe as proposal after proposal focussed on making the school a better place. We had initiatives to improve student learning, to increase social awareness and justice in the community, we had proposals to make life more efficient for all in the community, and we had boys suggesting developments for the benefit of others, rather than themselves. Now, not for one second do I believe we have reached the zenith, as there is always more we can do, however, I couldn’t help but to look on with pride as the boys, elected by their peers and staff, demonstrated true leadership and more importantly, service leadership. To have boys as young as Year Eight putting forward ideas that would not provide any benefit to them, showed a distinct care of others and a willingness to leave a legacy that truly warmed the heart.
I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on leadership and the need for not only our community, but the wider community, to have great leaders. Leadership means different things to different people around the world, and different things in different situations. For example, it could relate to community leadership, religious leadership, political leadership, and leadership of campaigning groups.
Firstly, what is leadership? Leadership can be defined as the action of leading a group of people or an organization, providing guidance, or direction, showing authority, or being able to control or manage people. To show leadership requires one to have initiative, and have the ability to influence.
Whilst leadership comes in many forms and styles there are always skills and characteristics required to be an effective leader. Most would agree that a leader is a person who creates an inspiring vision of the future, motivates and inspires people to engage with that vision, manages delivery of the vision, and coaches and builds a team, so that it is more effective at achieving the vision.
Leadership brings together a number of skills needed to do these things. Skills such as courage, enthusiasm, integrity, communication, passion and judgement to name just a few.
James Adonis, author of ‘How To Be Great’ unpacked some of these skills in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald which I read recently. I share some of his thoughts.
Judgment: This involves making good decisions at the right time based on trustworthy data and analysis. Leaders with judgment are flexible enough to change their mind when new information becomes available and are never plagued by decidophobia – the fear of making decisions.
Courage: A decision may be unpopular, it may attract political consequences, there could even be negative repercussions for the leader, and yet still that leader makes the right decision. That’s the characteristic of courage, which compels people to recover from adversity and gruelling experiences.
Drive: This is ambition, motivation, hope. It characterises the leader who isn’t content with the status quo; who’s satisfied only by the pursuit of objectives that are challenging and difficult but ultimately rewarding. These leaders work with energy, passion and urgency.
Collaboration: Leaders with a collaborative character are those who see their colleagues and employees as allies rather than enemies; as worthy of dialogue rather than monologue; as people with whom to share, rather than hoard, resources and ideas.
Integrity: This personifies the leader who holds himself or herself up to a high moral standard, higher than what’s expected of others. This means maintaining congruence between actions and words, and adhering to organisational rules and procedures.
Temperance: What’s that old saying? Staying cool, calm and collected? That’s what the leadership character of temperance is about. Stressful situations are dealt with level-headedly, problems that arise are solved rationally, and the excesses that others are tempted by are firmly resisted.
Accountability: This is when errors are rectified by taking personal responsibility, by avoiding excuses, and by refraining from finger pointing. An accountable leader is one who’s dependable, meets promises, and delivers on expectations.
Justice: This isn’t necessarily about seeking justice but about being the arbiter of fair decisions free from unconscious bias. This therefore necessitates writing wrongs, seeking feedback, and remaining objective even during times of emotional turbulence.
Humility: There’s nothing wrong with accepting praise for accomplishments so long as there’s as much willingness to accept criticism, to declare weaknesses, to seek opportunities for personal development, and to value others as much as oneself. That, in essence, is balanced humility.
Humanity: This calls for care and compassion, forgiveness and appreciation. At the heart of humanity is an understanding that everyone makes mistakes and that these are opportunities for coaching and learning rather than condemnation and punishment.
I hope the leaders we continue to develop here at the College will be the great leaders of tomorrow and will always demonstrate these skills and remember the leadership we should aspire to is that of service leadership. There may be less of a need to teach leaders step-by-step processes if they already embody the core characteristics of what makes a leader great in the first place.