Tuning into the Meaning of Leadership

With a recent Florida State University graduate class assignment on defining leadership – I waited util the day of the due date, (hate doing this usually) as I struggled with, within my lifetime, what I have seen as negative and positive leadership, and looked for the leadership I hoped to find.

I found that my definition for this assignment, of leadership, was the qualities I hoped to instill in others around me, the leadership skills I began to see in my Cross Country team, and the hope that these young leaders began to take take on more and more responsibility. I am proud of the responsibility these young people have undertaken, and the way they handle a level of responsibility when they struggle, and then learn from it. The last two weeks have truly taught me much about how I need to grow as a leader, and how others have.

I also see how NOT to be a leader, and often it frustrates me when I see other students always play the superior card, putting down others, talking down about others, and acting as if they know eery single facet of life, and realized, there is a difference in hypothesizing about how everything connect and works versus stating how everything works and knowing everything. Many fail to realize how the difference in these two approaches impacts others around them, and sets a tone of their own personality.

I also have been learning to make adjustments to my own life in how I want to be be perceived as a leader, and always want to be perceived in the light of being a leader with and among others at the same time, not simply a lone leader, not my preferred approach. Here was the result of my assignment:


“The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already.” John Buchan

In training to become an educator for my first Bachelor’s Degree, I vividly recall, looking back, what I had NOT been prepared for and that truly defined my ability to become a successful teacher. After perusing many examples, definitions, and theories, I see the quality of leadership being the ability to adapt to situations, while bringing others through scenarios successfully.

Sparked by Mike Myatt’s approach of Hacking the Leadership Gap I was drawn to the new terminology and perspective tied to leadership. I realized THAT defined the best idea of leadership. Leadership was defined by what it was NOT, not by the history of leadership, not dependent on past individuals that were considered leaders, and definitely not on what the public considers a leader.

Certainly, a mix of the above characteristics helps form a partial definition of leadership, but I realize leadership is the ability to move, motivate, and help individuals that surround you, helping them advance as well as yourself. Truly moving “ahead” or advancing in skills, abilities, and projects, leadership depends on others, fails when only others are pushed by one, and yet is successful when one individual is able to move others along with themself.

The changing history, scenarios, and projects that present themselves on a daily basis challenge any individual.   Having someone willing to guide, suggest, and lead another through solutions, and doing so with the utmost flexibility, procures leaders that are not in front us, but among us.

Clawson, J. G. (2012). Level Three Leadership: Getting below the surface, 5th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

In writing this, as I wrote, maybe it has been that the time I have spent this year with the Cross Country team has been different in seeing so many new layers of leadership rise to the surface – but the team and examples of this was al that came to mind. It was reassuring to get the comments below from colleagues to their result of this definition:

“Hello! That is such an awesome quote! It really speaks to what a leader should strive for, bringing out the best in people. I honestly believe that knowledge and reflection on what you do not know, really does influence how you become a leader; it assists you in focusing on making the next set of leaders that much better; with that much more knowledge. 

The idea of moving others along, and furthering your own leadership at the same time also makes a lot of sense to me. When one is placed into a leadership role, they often seek out advice, assistance, and motivation from others, some could be previous mentors and leaders, while others might be peers; thus bringing them to the level of leaders in some instances. Talking through ideas and calling on the “right people for the job” aids in leadership skills as well for both leaders and aspiring leaders alike. The ideal of everyone being a leader is something that I strived for when I was teaching, but kindergarteners are more interested in leading the line than leading the world; well some of them were ready to take on the world; and those students pushed me to be a better teacher and leader. “


“Hi Harry,

I really like the optimism your quote evokes. We do not seem to really see that in a lot leadership these days, often times it feels like a cog in the machine. It most certainly goes hand in hand with your future of becoming an educator; I can only imagine the amount of encouragement and appreciation your pupils must feel by having an educator apply that principal to them.

You truly have an optimistic and altruistic outlook on leadership, it is very refreshing. One of the qualities that would extend to this type of leadership would be humility and unfortunately truly humble people do not pursue leadership roles as aggressively as self-centered attention seekers. Leading to the ongoing cycle of management using their employees as cogs or pawns in political games. I really hope that we will start seeing an influx of leadership that takes this type of thinking to heart. The overly used trope of rising waters raises all ships come to mind; if the leader can influence the “water” by pushing their employees to continue to move their own bar, the aggregate of a team or even company could be improved overall.

I’m hoping that I will remember your viewpoint and take your optimistic outlook forward as I grow into my own leadership roles.”

I realize I have as many adjustments in myself to the differing leaderships roles I react to, as well as how I send those qualities out. I feel lucky I work with a Cross Country team that evokes all these thoughts on leadership, and that says alot to me 🙂


About Harry Brake

Employee of Woodbridge High School, Library Media Specialist, Media crazy! :)
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