Leadership is the power or ability to lead other people, the act or instance of leading. I believe that leadership is an art, the art to get others to follow and accomplish a common goal or task in a harmonic manner. A leader can be shown in all kinds of shapes and forms. To be a great leader many people believe it consists of modeling the way, inspiring a shared vision, enabling others to act, and encouraging the heart. Over the course of my learnings in how to become a better leader and being in leadership roles, I’ve learned that all these are very necessary to be a great leader.
A significant part of effective leadership is the close connection between the leader and the follower, which often determines the success of the leader’s mission. Unfortunately, this leader-follower relationship cannot be created according to some simple formula. Without inspiration, involvement, and encouragement from both participants, the relationship suffers. Leaders, in particular, must give an extra effort to reach out to followers in order to initiate and develop this alliance that is so critical to the achievement of goals.
In my personal experience, I have found a profound usefulness and effectiveness in authentic leadership. This is a style of leadership that encompasses leaders’ personality and core values, including honesty, ethics, and practicality. An authentic leader is more interested in empowering employees and bringing the best out of their potential, rather than in money or personal power. Authentic leaders draw their inspirations from their own lives. A great example of this is from my leadership interview with Patricia Chan, my previous high-school teacher. She inspired me and others to succeed in her class by drawing from life experiences and sharing to us what she has learned along the way. The feeling of genuineness and inner desire to lead others in a right path is what stuck out to me the most.
In the following paper, I will be identifying and reflecting upon several themes which were brought up in our leadership studies. As well, I will be developing my own personal leadership philosophy. I will attempt to delve into topics such as my own personal vision for the future, how I am bringing it into fruition, and what the process will be like. Hopefully, by the end of the paper I will shed light onto areas of leadership which I am not comfortable with and need to practice on and areas of leadership in which I excel at and can replicate in the real world work environment.
The Oxymoron of Leadership
As Warren Bennis stated it best, “no leader sets out to become a leader”. Individuals aren’t born into leadership. The presidents, CEOs, and executives of the world weren’t brought into this world with a knowledge that they will be leaders of huge amounts of people. This burden has been brought upon them by the fact that they have shown traits of leadership by being themselves. The individual traits that they possess have been curated and fine-tuned into becoming a person that is capable of handling thousands of employee’s work lives. To some this may come naturally, but to most this is a skill that has been worked on throughout the years.
Warren Bennis’ full quote is as follows:
“No leader sets out to become a leader. People set out to live their lives, expressing themselves fully. When that expression is of value, they become leaders. So the point is not to become a leader. The point is to become yourself, to use yourself completely – all your skills, gifts, and energies – in order to make your vision manifest. You must withhold nothing. You must, in sum, become the person you started out to be and enjoy the process of becoming.”
This quote really resonated with me and shed light on a point of view of leadership which I had not looked at in the past. Before, I had the mindset that leaders are born and bred. That the top leaders of the world were inherently given these skills by chance and through the years they have understood these traits and effectively utilized them. However, this has a different side to it. Warren Bennis does a fantastic job of painting a picture which states that leadership comes from within. Not so much from luck, but from being an individual person. By culminating the total of your skills, gifts, and energies, you can create a leadership style that is individual to yourself. Of course, it will borrow ideas from several different leadership theories. Whether that be transformational leadership or adaptive leadership, the style that somebody can bring to the table always has a personal touch to it.
The idea that leaders are not born to be leaders took some time for me to digest. Of course, with all things, it’s natural that when you are taught a different light or different point of view, you’re hesitant to dismiss your original thoughts. I was hesitant to dismiss the idea that the top leaders of the world did not receive a bit of luck with how they were born and the values that were instilled in them. However, I soon realized that this way of thinking is incorrect. Warren Bennis’ quote inspired me to think in a different light. The Elon Musks and Steve Jobs of the world are inherently very intelligent and have a natural intrinsic motivator in them which instills the desire to succeed at a high level. However, that is not to say that these people are not incredibly worthy of their praise and accolades. The constant retooling, dedication to learning how to lead, and hours upon hours of tuning their craft and working through failure makes me believe that these people worked on their leadership skills at an immense level to be where they are currently at.
A fantastic example of this is a quote from Elon Musk himself. An anonymous Tesla employee was recalling an email that Elon had sent to him after missing a work event in order to witness the birth of his child. The email read:
“That is no excuse. I am extremely disappointed. You need to figure out where your priorities are. We’re changing the world and changing history, and you either commit or you don’t.”
When your leader is putting such high priorities to the organization and even going as far as saying that the birth of your child is not an excuse to miss important work events, then you know the style of leadership that he is producing. This shows an intense and passionate view into Elon’s organization and he expects that all his workers have the same level and desire to succeed as he does. The fact that he makes this known is a positive aspect as it allows any candidate that is interested in a position at Tesla to understand the mental capacity that is required. This is an example of a leader who stepped into the role not from birth, but from experience and constant failure. This failure and drive to succeed made him into the person that he is today.
This all ties into Warren Bennis’ quote because it gives insight into what Warren was trying to convey. Elon Musk is one-of-a-kind. He is living his life the way he sees fit and isn’t trying to be anybody but himself. The skills, gifts, and energies that he possesses and that make him into the individual he is, also make him into the outstanding leader that he is. This is the point of Warren’s quote. As such, this is why I titled this portion “The Oxymoron of Leadership”. When people think of leadership, it is always the process of “becoming” a leader. You can look through online databases and read hundreds of articles that try to explain how one becomes a leader, as if it is a different entity than yourself. Leadership and being yourself is not exclusive, both of them work together in a very synergistic way.
Ever since I had my first job as a cashier and storefront clerk at Tim Hortons, I was always intrigued by good displays of management. However, throughout the years ever since then, I was always disappointed by the lack of effective leadership being displayed in the work environments I was involved in. At almost all of the industries and companies that I have worked with, I have immediately noticed gaps in leadership skills in managers and a lack of care from top management. With these entry-level jobs, I was mostly involved in customer service and customer facing positions. Even though these positions are entry-level and have a low skill barrier for entry, they are still extremely important to organizations. I couldn’t believe how some organizations did not realize that these lower level jobs are actually the face of your organization. When walking through the doors, these people working the front desk are the first faces you see and the ones that stick with you as the face of the company. There needs to be an extreme level of care put into these customer-facing employees as they are essentially the only ones who are connecting with your clients. By implementing a level of management that takes into account different leadership methods and making sure that employees are given a path to follow, then you are not only showing that care is provided for lower level employees, but you are also identifying that these positions are important for the reputation of the company.
My vision in terms of leadership philosophies is for all entry-level employees to have experience with authentic leadership and leadership which encompasses their skills and does so in a way that makes them feel valued. I am fortunate in the sense that I have the necessary language skills and experience to move up from these positions, but others are not as lucky. Immigrants and people new to the country who struggle with the native language and do not have work experience in Canada are stuck in these low paying and low morale jobs. Even if they have the qualifications overseas, they sometimes do not translate over to give them any benefits here. In a perfect world, all companies would recognize the value that comes from effective leadership.
In a more personal sense, my vision would be to encompass the values and traits that I have learned from both authentic leadership and transformational leadership in future career roles. I am excited for future leadership positions because I feel as if the knowledge that I can take from this course will be extremely beneficial in showing my followers what an effective leader is capable of. As Northouse stated, “there are almost as many different definitions of leadership as there are people who have tried to define it. It is much like the words democracy, love, and peace. Although each of us intuitively knows what we mean by such words, the words can have different meaning for different people”. This heavily ties in with Warren Bennis’ quote and the individualization that people have on leadership. I’m excited in bringing my vision of authentic leadership to teams that look up to me as a leader. The tools and ideas that the course has taught me along the way will coincide with my intrinsic motivation to inspire others with my leadership.
My vision is to bring my passion for authentic leadership and inspire others with its methodology. My path to making this vision manifest into reality is through my work environment and as a secondary, my personal environment as well. I believe that the skills learned throughout the entirety of this course are not only applicable at work, but also at home or in your personal life. Being a leader is not just about the bottom line and getting employees to be productive. It can be about leading a household, being a leader for children, or even managing expectation for your own kids.
As a leader, my personal philosophy on leadership also includes a few other points. Firstly, I believe that your title makes you a manager, but your people will decide if you are a leader. Leadership is not only the job of inspiring the potential out of people, but also the recognition that his potential exists. As such, attributes which I aspire to be a role model of each day includes integrity, transparency, and humility. As a leader, I will always say what I mean, and mean what I say. In the end, my words and my actions should be synonymous with one another. With humility, I will seek to learn from others, treat every success and failure as a learning opportunity, and strive to be a better leader and a better person each day.
On the other hand, there would be expectations from my team members as well. To be an effective leader, you need people on your side who are willing to work for you and give you 100%. As I said before, as a leader, I will try to be a better person day in and day out as each day brings new lessons. Therefore, I expect my team members or followers to be similar and aspire to be the best version of themselves. People who are true to themselves and play to their strengths are invaluable. Equally, being self-aware of opportunities to improve upon a skill or learn something new is important. Being adaptable, committed, and accountable are all trait within followers which would allow me to bring my vision to life.
The following “SMART” list is my action plan towards achieving this vision:
S: the specific area I am targeting for improvement is my interpersonal skills. I believe I possess a wide variety of work appropriate skills but improving upon empathy and transparency with others would benefit me with authentic leadership.
M: measuring my success with employees in the workplace by tracking their progress from when I started leading them to when I stopped. If they are not at a level where I want them to be in terms of replicating authentic behavior values (transparency, honesty, ethics, self-awareness), then I have failed at my measurement.
A: achievable through an upcoming promotion at my current work. With this promotion, I will have an increased responsibility with other employees and have duties that pertain to leading a small group of customer service representatives.
R: realistic through the fact that I notice behaviors with current customer service representatives who are not leading by example. These are employees who do not have an authoritative figure that they can look up to as a leader. They are in need of direction and I believe that I can step in and lead them through a vision that would best suit the organization.
T: time-bound as I am allowing myself a maximum of one year to be put into a position where I can achieve this vision. If by then I am not given enough responsibility in the workplace to bring this vision to fruition, then I would attempt to focus on authentic leadership through my personal life.
Leadership Variety in Styles
Throughout the course of the Summer, I have learned through the Northouse textbook and the Rowe cases the importance of different styles of leadership. For example, we started the semester off with learning about the trait approach. Northouse states that, “an individual does not become a leader solely because that individual possesses certain traits. Rather, the traits that leaders possess must be relevant to situations in which the leader is functioning.” This goes back to my idea of leaders being “born and bred” which was an error in thinking.
On the other hand of this approach is a different style of thinking which is called the skills approach. The skills approach takes a leader-centered perspective on leadership. This is a style of leadership which I have a difficulty relating myself to, as I believe that leaders should not be the focus of the organization. However, this approach suggests that three basic personal skills are needed for effective administration: technical skills, human skills, and conceptual skills. In my personal experience, I have noticed lower management and supervisors possessing technical skills for the job. However, they are extremely lacking in human and conceptual skills. I would rank the latter two more important than technical skills as they are more inherently linked to your personal values and emotional skills. Technical skills are teachable, human and conceptual skills are a bit more difficult.
“Since the time of the Industrial Revolution, managers have tended to view people as tools, while organizations have considered workers as cogs in a machine. In the past few decades, we have witnessed a shift in that long-held view. In countless for-profit and non-profit organizations today, we are seeing traditional, autocratic, and hierarchical modes of leadership yielding to a different way of working—one based on teamwork and community, one that seeks to involve others in decision making, one strongly based in ethical and caring behavior, and one that is attempting to enhance the personal growth of people while improving the caring and quality of our many institutions.”
The following quote from the Journal of Business Strategy shows that views regarding leadership styles are changing. In the past, managers did not tend to inspire employee and they considered them as “cogs in a machine”. The new age has arrived, and employees need to feel empowered. It seems like a handful of organization are stuck on the ways of previous generations and have not adapted to leadership styles which encompass teamwork and community. This may be since these companies are still owned and operated by the same people as several years ago. Older generation’s mindsets are difficult to change as they see their company today and notice their success. The way of thinking goes like this: if I have done things the current way throughout the years and my company has been this successful, why would I change it now? This lack of adaption is what keeps leadership in companies at a standstill.
I am putting a heavy focus on authentic leadership for both this course paper and my vision for leadership philosophy. Throughout my high-school and post-secondary career, I have found myself gravitating towards professors who lead with purpose. Professors who are not only knowledgeable in the field that the course pertains to but are also passionate about passing this knowledge along. “Authentic leaders are critical in creating a climate which encourages diversity and inclusion. Authentic leaders are strong role models, whose behaviors and actions signify the appropriate and expected conduct from their followers”. Boekhorst made a great point here about authentic leadership and the effect it has on followers. By effectively using this leadership style, the ability to inspire intrinsic motivation within employees or students shows. Boekhorst describes the changing atmosphere of workplaces nowadays with the increasing amount of diversity. Especially in Canada, we are no strangers to diversity in the workplace. As such, a problem arises. Leaders need to effectively adapt to the changes in the workplace. Workplace inclusion is a huge factor in whether or not employees perform at a satisfactory level. The leadership style that these employees are under determines if they are feeling included in the workplace or not.
Authentic leadership is tied in with this as leaders play a monumental role in the formation of the work climate. This is because the work climate is based upon the values and beliefs that these leaders encompass. These beliefs from top management is trickled down and instilled in the workplace culture and in the employees. Based on this, authentic leaders are critical in creating a climate which encourages diversity and inclusion.