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Views on Leaderhip

Jim Mahoney
October 25, 2021

Earlier this month, I taught a class of young graduate students who offered a variety of views on leadership through their early lens of work. One stated clearly that she thought real leadership was best demonstrated through followers. “I mean,” she suggested, “if no one wants to follow you, can you really be a leader?” She further clarified that the real test of leadership for her was whether someone would follow another, if given a choice.

Our leadership tests and definitions reveal themselves in our daily thoughts, actions, and conversations. Consider my reconstructed conversation from football analysts Terry Bradshaw and Jimmy Johnson, both football Hall of Famers on opening weekend in the NFL. They were shown an interview with a colleague asking MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers what would make him happy with his current team after rumors all summer that he was leaving. He suggested in part having a larger say in the future of the organization would satisfy his need to contribute more to the long-term future of the Pack. Coach Jimmy Johnson said that made sense. After all, he often asked his great quarterback Troy Aikman to weigh in on choices he and the organization were making. Jimmy further added his definition of leadership with this notion: a leader needs to persuade those who are crucial to the operation of the approaches he is taking.

 Then QB Terry Bradshaw offered a different view. In fact, he said something like “I completely disagree with Jimmy.” He pointed out that Rodger’s job was to DO his job. That meant maybe getting a first down on third down and eight yards to go propelling Green Bay perhaps into the Super Bowl last year. Not worrying about input on managerial decisions. In other words, quarterback the team, not consult on draft choices. Yet another view on leadership.

 I was struck by the clarity of leadership views in the interchange. Candidly, I thought about the power of AND rather than OR in their discussion. You can do your job well and still contribute in other ways. Still, our views of how we see our job as leaders determine how we do our job. For example, if you see your role as to enlist followers, you behave differently as a leader than someone who sees their job as simply telling others the answers. Leadership may be the most talked about, written about, and poorly conducted exercise in America.

Here are three ideas to consider in your leadership practice at home or work:

(1) How do you “see leadership “? Because how you see it is probably how you will practice it. Is your view different based upon situations? Is it static? If you aren’t sure, ask others for feedback on how they see you practicing it. A high school principal I admired kept his office plastered with quotations on leadership that he wrote on small placards. He gave me one I still have when I started as superintendent and was struggling: “The road with no obstacles doesn’t lead anywhere.” It inspired me then and now.

 (2) Ever see a turtle on a fence post? If you did, it didn’t get there by itself!  It’s a reminder that few of us ever get anywhere without someone helping us along the way. There is no leadership without followership. Followership must be seeded, nurtured, and cultivated. When it is done well, everyone grows, including the leader.

 (3) Do you own results? Or if things don’t go well, are you quick to name, blame, and shame? Legendary football coach Bear Bryant offered his view of leadership with this adage: “If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it. “

Teaching and leading are the gifts that keep on giving. People remember how you led families, teams, or organizations. How you made them feel. Live and lead the way you want to be remembered —-because you will be.