Doing Leadership: An Act not a Static Characteristic or Position

A local acquaintance, no stranger to acts of leadership, posted an interesting article in our local newspaper, the Fairbanks Daily News Miner (www.newsminer.com). Kathryn Dodge references several leadership authorities in making a valuable point for a community trying to enact change: leadership is an activity and following someone can be an act of leadership. With permission, I’m sharing the article. Enjoy!

In America, we talk a lot about leaders. Our language implies that a person is a leader — as if it is a part of who they are, rather than the actions that they take. Marty Linsky suggests humans are not really “leaders,” but sometimes we engage in leadership acts — or “do leadership.” Further, he proposes that when we are engaging in actions that are expected of us based on our job description, we are not doing leadership — we are doing what we are authorized by others to do.

However, when we step outside our area of authority and into an area beyond our authorization, we then are “doing leadership.” This implies most of us are not leaders, rather sometimes we engage in leadership behavior. Why does acting outside our area of authority constitute leadership? When we act outside our authority, because it is the right thing to do, which is how Peter F. Drucker defines leadership, it allows us to be seen as leaders.

If we are just slightly outside our area of authority, we are leading a little bit; the further we venture from the area in which we are authorized to operate, the more we are engaging in leadership, and the riskier our actions become. I agree with Linsky that when we step into that space, when we say, “look, this is what we (community, organizations, friends) need to do,” that is when we are leading.

Citizens for Clean Air march in Fairbanks on October 4th, 2014

John Davies and fellow Citizens for Clean Air march in Fairbanks on October 4th, 2014

In his Ted Talk, Derek Sivers suggests leaders need followers, and the first person who follows what a “leader” is doing or saying is also engaging in leadership. In this example, we see someone taking a risk, associating themselves with someone doing something they are not yet authorized to do, endorsing the leader and joining them in the nether space of leadership that is outside their area of authorized action.

This is referred to as a “movement.” Sivers argues the leader embracing the first follower as an equal is important to this process. The second and third person to join the “movement” begin to normalize the act, transforming it into something that the majority, by their agreement and support, will norm into the leader’s purview.

What does this mean to us as community members, employees, parents, etc.? It allows people who don’t feel or look like “leaders” to understand that leadership isn’t a quality a person has, but an act a person takes. One does leadership by stepping a little outside their comfort zone and say, “Let’s do it a different way.” Then by enrolling a few followers, who also may bring others into the mix, the new action or idea becomes apart of everyday life.

This, friends, is truly leading the way — It’s that simple.

Kathryn Dodge is on the Northern Leadership Center Advisory Committee and is an Assistant Professor with the School of Natural Resources and Extension and Statewide Extension at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Kathryn Dodge is on the Northern Leadership Center Advisory Committee and is an Assistant Professor with the School of Natural Resources and Extension and Statewide Extension at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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About cognizantfox

Cognizantfox has served his country over twenty-five years doing the unselfish, noble work of conserving America's natural heritage.
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