In further thinking about my previous article titled Non Sibi Reprise, it is important to come back to this issue of leadership. The New York Times article referenced, Not Leadership Material?, takes the viewpoint that our whole concept of leadership needs to have a review.
The other day during a conversation with a parent I mentioned that leadership does not necessarily mean being the Captain, the President or even in a specific position within an organization, whatever type of organization that might be. Every organization needs doers, people who follow. Being a good member of an organization, sharing the vision with others, inspiring others as a member is also leadership.
In a previous article about Non Sibi, I referenced a scene where a boy had dropped his plate of food and another boy came over to help clean up the mess. There were five or six other students sitting around, and none of them did anything except for the one boy. The courage to take action on his part was leadership.
Leadership comes from the fine critical and analytical skills needed to discern when action needs to be taken, and to have the courage to then take action. But sometimes leadership, as in the above example, is to stand alone, to go one’s own way. There is a student I am working with who was planning her summer programming. She had already applied to programs at top schools – all involving more classes, specifically math. We talked about alternatives that involved community service, Spanish (she is taking Spanish at school), and character development. She became so excited, she is off to Peru with Visions Services Adventures. When she had previously told her friend she was taking math at Stanford, they were excited and supportive. When she said that she had changed her mind and was going to Peru, they told her she was crazy. That is in my mind leadership – the courage to stand alone despite what others may think.
Lately some of my conversations with students have revolved around the idea of being a sheep. The safety of following can be too easy; the idea of going against the grain can be scary. But in considering what makes us individuals, it comes from being separate, making our own decisions and having the courage to possibly fail.
Learning comes in all shapes and forms. Developing leadership skills also comes in many forms. Understanding that a job well done is another form of leadership, but it also comes from understanding the role one plays in the achievement. Coming back to the reference to soccer in the New York Times article, it helps us to understand that soccer is about both team and individual effort. Winning or losing is about evaluating the team and one’s own performance. Self-evaluation in and of itself is in some ways a form of leadership.
Many cultures push the ideal of winning and giving accolades. In the US sometimes it feels like everyone has to earn something. Graduation celebrations now come at almost every grade level; everyone needs to get a certificate no matter what. It has changed how people view what is appropriate. But do we praise too much or incorrectly?
The concept of leadership leaves much to consider. In many ways I consider the NYT article to be correct. With more doers, people who push their own boundaries to become better, not for accolades, but because it is right and moral and will add to the betterment of others, perhaps then we can think of true leadership.
Having said all that, while leadership is important, what I really think is that developing character is more important. And thankfully schools – both boarding schools and universities – are talking more and more about character. As previously mentioned, SSAT is developing a character assessment. All schools are looking to develop their communities that support their mission, philosophy and ethos. It seems that finally those who set the standards beyond academic performance, schools, are placing character above leadership.