Monday, November 3, 2008

Defining Leadership: The Use of Modifiers

Leadership literature demonstrates that there is something important about using a modifier for the word leadership. Perhaps this is because the term leadership is boundless and has no one clear definition in any field to which it is applied (Northouse, 2007). The reality is that leadership is more often described by the multitude of approaches and skills necessary to do leadership than by the essences with which it is characterized. If a definition asserts the meaning of a term, then characterizing how to do leadership does not really bring to light its essence-its full meaning. What is required to get at the essence of leadership is to also reveal the context in which leadership exists. In this context, this includes the spirit and values of people, organizations, field/discipline, time in history, and many other variables and their relationship to one another so that one begins to understand the fuller meaning of leadership. The forces driving the transformation of social justice leadership are central to the context in which this research exists.

One common way to share a fuller meaning of the word leadership is to put a modifier in front of it. The modifier is what gives the generic term leadership flavor and hints that there is something more to the word than meets the eye. Simply put, the modifier sets apart one way of talking about leadership from another. Popular examples of this are as follows

1. Servant leadership: "The servant-leader is servant first. . . It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. . . after leadership is established" (Greenleaf, 2002, p. 27).

2. Management leadership: "Managerial Leadership by its very nature is not an applied science. . . [it] is very down-to-earth and situational, and yet has to be understood in terms of timeless themes of power and friendship and choice and responsibility and community. . . it forces us to rethink the boundary between the secular and the sacred, between the natural and the transcendental" (Vaill, 1998, pp. 4-5).

3. Sustainable leadership: "Sustainable educational leadership and improvement preserves and develops deep learning for all that spreads and lasts, in ways that do no harm to and indeed create positive benefit for others around us, now and in the future" (Hargreaves & Fink, 2006, p. 17).

4. Transforming leadership: Transforming leadership "occurs when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality" (Burns, 1978, p. 20).

5. Transformational leadership: "Transformational leadership involved inspiring followers to commit to a shared vision and goals for an organization or unit, challenging them to be innovative problem solvers, and developing followers' leadership capacity via coaching mentoring, and provision of both challenge and support" (Bass & Riggio, 2006, p. 4).

6. Toxic leadership: "Toxic leadership is a process in which leaders, by dint of their destructive behavior and/or dysfunctional personal characteristics, inflict serious and enduring harm on their followers, their organizations, and nonfollowers" (Lipman-Blumen, 2005, p. 1).

At their crux, these examples modifying leadership show the spectrum of direction, values, and boundaries of the various concepts of leadership. What is missing for me in these examples, and in much of leadership development literature, is an analysis of transformation as it relates to social justice, power, and the status quo regardless of field or discipline. Another element that is often omitted is the role and legitimacy of aesthetic leadership in all the literature reviewed.

Aesthetic leadership is a way of considering leadership as being subjectively felt by sensory perceptions and tacit knowledge rooted in feelings and emotions (Hansen, Ropo, & Sauer, 2007); from this perspective the concept of "aesthetics involves sensory assessment of how we feel about anything" (p. 546). In the landmark book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, Goleman (2000) speaks to this when he writes, "intuition and gut feeling [this is the actual feeling received in the gut] bespeak the capacity to sense messages from internal stores of emotional memory--our own reservoir of wisdom and judgment" (p. 54).

For a leader, the complimentary concepts of aesthetic leadership and emotional intelligence are critical because they invite a leader to be present and aware of the relationship between their mind, their emotions, their body, and the situation. Aesthetic leadership and emotional intelligence are embodied wisdom of any leader, but are easily ignored or taken for granted. As a self-subscribed life-affirming leader, I believe that creating spaces for learning, which is a large part of how I think of my work, is a sacred act, and therefore requires heartfelt attention to my own emotional intelligence, the informal and formal environment, as well as to the elements in a situation that are seen/unseen and spoken/unspoken.

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