What is leadership?

Is it to boss people around?
Give instructions and lead?
Knowing the most in a group?

Who is a leader?

In the conventional sense, leaders are people who push and encourage us to work harder, to do more, to be better. There seems to be a linear power dynamic where one person holds more authority than others. This image of leadership is perpetuated in the media and society. The word “leader” has become synonymous with the Presidents, CEOs, Prime Ministers, founders–visionaries that pave the way in their professional field. This, obviously, isn’t incorrect–but is there another way to define leadership?

At Cornell University’s Summer College program, I took a course called Social Entrepreneurship: Transforming Lives, Resolving Problems, where we learned the importance of social enterprises and how they can enhance to the common good in unique ways that for-profit businesses and non-profit charities don’t.

One of the most intriguing concepts I learned about was learning different methods to lead. In class, we stood in different parts of the room based on our general leadership style and had a discussion afterwards.

A breakdown of each leadership style:
Warrior (north): That’s me! The get-things-done type; decisive and likes challenges.

Nurturer (south): Cares about everyone, wants the team to feel comfortable and included; peace-loving and fair.

Visionary (east): The Elon Musk/Steve Jobs type who has big dreams. A creative risk taker.

Analyst (west): The one who knows what they’re doing–dependable, detail-oriented, organized, and thorough.

These four types of aren’t all there is to leadership, but it does offer a good sense regarding how people act when they hold positions of power. When we were working on group projects, I could instantly recognize the different leadership types–one team member came up with lots of creative ideas, another questioned the viability and logistics of them, another tried to calm down our arguments, and I wanted to get things done.

I also noticed that two of these leadership types, the Nurturer and Analyst, are often underrepresented in the media. We see Visionary and Warrior-type political figures, business executives, and activists who push big ideas forward as the ultimate leaders. It’s almost a masculine expectation.

With this comes the critical neglect of Nurturers and Analysts. Nurturers are the glue that keep us together, to strengthen our teamwork in times of conflict. Analysts are critical in assessing viability, and making sure that every step we take is done correctly. Without them, the world would be a mess. Yet they are often brushed aside and are not celebrated in the ways that their Visionary and Warrior counterparts are.

I don’t know why I’m the warrior-type; maybe it’s because of the psychology involved in being the first child, or because of an innate personality trait. It could also very well be because I’ve been shaped to think that it’s the right type of leadership.

This kind of expectation is unhealthy for growing children, and even adults, who feel pressured to act a certain way to be a leader. We need to begin a new generation that embraces different types of leadership–leaders who may not be conventional, but just as (and if not more) effective.

We read a few chapters from Everyone Leads by Paul Schmitz. He states that “leadership is an inherently collaborative process,” and that the best leadership is one that allows for the empowerment of others.

Previously, I thought leaders were people who knew what they were doing best out of a group, and therefore led them to get things done.

I’ve come to realize, however, that the best leaders aren’t necessarily the ones who know what to do, but rather the ones who are emotionally intelligent, empathetic, and have the ability to bring out the best of every member. Dr. Anke Wessels, my professor, offered interesting insight into group projects: “When everyone thinks they have the easiest job, it means that they’re doing what they’re best at.” Becoming someone who can understand others’ abilities and effectively motivate them is ultimate skillset for a leader to have.

The focal point of leadership lies too heavily on a single person. Leadership, at its core, is about the team and enabling collaboration.

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