The conundrum of leadership

by Jaclyn McLean, Electronic Resources Librarian, University of Saskatchewan

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a leader. What leadership is. What a strong leader would look like. How I could be a leader from right here where I am today. So naturally, I have been doing some reading about leadership. And watching some videos about it, too. I’ve found a few philosophies about leadership that resonate with me, and many others that didn’t, which only serves to demonstrate the individual nature of leadership. There seems to be a need for hope, for optimism, in the world today. For me, thinking about the leader I could be and focusing on the positive, rather than letting my energy be drained by the state of the world around me, has made me feel like I’m doing something positive. These are some of the people whose ideas about leadership are inspiring me:

Susan Cain [link: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/16/opinion/sunday/introverts-make-great-leaders-too.html] wrote Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, a book that showed me that introversion is powerful. It is not something that needs to be cured. It is not the same thing as shyness. Some of the most powerful leaders in recent history would describe themselves with the characteristics of introversion.

Drew Dudley [link: https://www.ted.com/talks/drew_dudley_everyday_leadership] reminds us that leadership can be as small as a moment when you have an impact on someone else’s life. That as long as we make leadership about changing the world, we’re giving ourselves the excuse not to expect it from ourselves or each other.

Roxane Gay [link: https://www.ted.com/talks/roxane_gay_confessions_of_a_bad_feminist ] has the bravery to say and write the kinds of things I think but am not always brave enough to say. She says, in Bad Feminist: Essays “When you can’t find someone to follow, you have to find a way to lead by example.” If you haven’t read any of her writing, consider it [link: http://fortune.com/2015/02/12/women-shouldnt-have-to-lead-like-men-to-be-successful/]. Or follow her on Twitter and observe how she engages with critics. She leads by example.

Simon Sinek [link: https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_why_good_leaders_make_you_feel_safe] tells us that leadership is a choice in his Ted talk. He talks about trust and cooperation, about choosing to look after those to your right and your left, to sacrifice so others may gain. When you do, others will sacrifice for you. And that is leadership.

Tina Fey [link: https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/university_of_venus/lessons_from_bossypants_women_and_leadership] reminds us to be part of the solution. To say yes rather than no, to stay open to possibility rather than shutting it down for yourself and others.

Looking to these sources (and so many others who stretch my thinking (watch Leroy Little Bear [link: https://vimeo.com/172822409])), I’ve been building my personal definition of leadership for several years now. Right now, it looks something like this. Leadership is the accumulation of small victories. It is situational, vulnerable, authentic, generous, flexible, and driven by the heart. Leaders admit when they falter or fall down, and they get back up again. Being a leader is about the small actions, about treating others how you’d like to be treated, by setting expectations for others and meeting them yourself. The idea of leading with the heart reminds me of Selinda’s recent post [link: http://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2017/01/03/affective-research-supports/] on this blog. Providing affective research support is one of those small actions that can have a large impact.

So that’s what leadership looks like to me right now. What does it look like to you? What kind of leader do you want to be? What can you do to make someone else’s life a bit better today?

 

Author’s Note: In writing this post, I came face to face with the unavoidable truth that many of those we hold up as leaders, or as exemplifying leadership qualities, are white men or women. If you’d like to read more about that bias, I would point you to this article, “Think Leader, Think White? Capturing and Weakening an Implicit Pro-White Leadership Bias” from PLos ONE [link: http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0083915], and ask you to look for role models and leaders from outside your own cultural community. Or think about how to encourage leaders from all communities. Michelle Obama has some advice [link: https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2015/05/09/remarks-first-lady-tuskegee-university-commencement-address]. Thanks for reading.


This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

One thought on “The conundrum of leadership

  1. Great work Jaclyn!

    Interestingly enough I’m in the middle of reading Bad Feminist and had to comment! I wholeheartedly agree that Gay’s approach is empowering and inspiring (even for myself as a privileged white male!), and would recommend this book to anyone in light of the gendered disparities (and other issues) in leadership we too-often contend with.

    I’m still coming to terms with my own sense of leadership, but thinking back to Gay’s humble acceptance of the term “bad” feminist, I think it’s safe to say that humility is a powerful virtue for any leader.

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