Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to explore some of the literature on the subject of leadership and what attributes people prioritize in leaders. While I’ve held a leadership position for some time, my approach has been primarily influenced by experiences with leaders I’ve worked with in the past. It’s been interesting to see which of my preconceived notions are supported by the literature, and what ways of thinking I should consider adopting.
While much of what I’ve read in the literature has reinforced my previous notions of what makes an effective leader, there were a few points that I came across which I found compelling. One such point was that regardless of circumstances or geography, most of us look for the same four qualities in a leader. Kouzes and Posner (2011) observed that “the majority of people look for and admire leaders who are honest, forward-looking, inspiring, and competent” (p. 4). This was reinforced in the group activity my team engaged in earlier when Carpenter et al. (2021) prioritized honesty, competence, and inspiration as some of the most important leadership qualities. I’ve often thought that we as people aren’t all that unique when it comes to what drives us to excel. Generally speaking, we care about the same things. So, the evidence presented here in the research shouldn’t be all that surprising.
Another interesting point that came up was the idea of leadership as service. I was particularly drawn to the Indigenous interpretation of this concept which presents a greater sense of responsibility than that of Western cultures on the impact of a leader’s actions. Julien et al. (2010) argued that “Aboriginal leadership is about meeting the needs of the entire community and connecting community to the past” (p. 119). In this way, a leader is not only responsible for how their actions impact their organization and their constituents, but also how those actions impact the community at large. I think this sense of responsibility to the whole, rather than solely those directly associated with an organization, is woefully lacking in Western leadership. A shift towards this Indigenous way of thinking would likely be beneficial for the health and sustainability of our communities.
Changes Moving Forward
In the future, I plan to make some adjustments to the way in which I lead, particularly in an online environment. First, I need to be more intentional about the way in which I communicate the objectives I envision for my organization and be much more articulate about what success looks like. Kouzes and Posner (2011) argued that “leaders can’t just have dreams of the future; they must be able to communicate those dreams in ways that encourage people to sign on for the duration and to work hard for the goal” (p. 6). In addition, Castelli (2016) noted “that when followers view their work as relevant and purposeful to the organization, job satisfaction and motivation to perform increase” (p. 224). I’ve found that in person, this kind of communication happens more naturally in casual conversations between meetings. In an online environment, however, when interactions are more appointment driven, the conversation is less likely to move naturally to greater objectives. Therefore, I need to make a specific point of speaking about the future and how each individual’s part contributes to the organization’s success.
My recent reading of the literature also brought to my attention some similarities between Indigenous and Feminist approaches to leadership, leading me to think about how I can incorporate those ideas into my practice. Julien et al. (2010), from an Indigenous perspective, and Batliwala (2010), from a Feminist perspective, both describe the importance of a leader considering their constituents in a holistic fashion, rather than merely employees. I have a tendency to focus too much on people’s contributions to their work, rather than how other influential factors impact their wellbeing. As presented by Tussyadiah (2015), the ubiquity of mobile devices has supported a blending of work and personal life. Therefore, we need to be more mindful of the whole nature of a person in order to develop a more meaningful connection. I was also struck by the similarity between the Indigenous method to lead by consensus (Julien et al., 2010) and the Feminist preference for all members of an organization to have influence in certain decision-making (Batliwala, 2010). This leads me to believe that I need to be more conscious of encouraging conversation amongst the entire group when considering ways forward and be willing to shift my perspective to be more inclusive.
Batliwala, S. (2010). Feminist leadership for social transformation: Clearing the conceptual cloud. 1–42. https://justassociates.org/sites/justassociates.org/files/feminist-leadership-clearing-conceptual-cloud-srilatha-batliwala.pdf
Carpenter, J., Guichon, P., MacKay, M., Nix, C. H., & Rowe, C. (2021). Admired Leadership Attributes. Christopher’s Blog. https://malat-webspace.royalroads.ca/rru0162/
Castelli, P. A. (2016). Reflective leadership review: a framework for improving organisational performance. Journal of Management Development, 35(2), 217–236. https://doi.org/10.1108/JMD-08-2015-0112
Julien, M., Wright, B., & Zinni, D. M. (2010). Stories from the circle: Leadership lessons learned from aboriginal leaders. Leadership Quarterly, 21(1), 114–126. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2009.10.009
Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2011). Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It,. In Quality Management Journal (Vol. 19, Issue 3, pp. 69–70). https://doi.org/10.1080/10686967.2012.11918075
Tussyadiah, I. P. (2015). Personal technology and tourism experiences. ISCONTOUR, 1–10. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/279178497_Personal_Technology_and_Tourism_Experiences