A reflection on the leadership development experience – the introductory biography

It happens with just about every new group: go around the circle and introduce yourself.In an academic setting that usually included your department, current role or position and something about your research. Often the research component can be detailed enough to include recent publications and grants.

But in the academic leadership development setting, would/should you expect something different? You might, but my limited experience, you won’t. The role part does at least include something about a leadership position to justify the seat at the table, but there’s still a focus on research achievement. Here’s some thoughts on why this is and then I’ll decide if it’s an issue:

  1. Academics define themselves based on their academic achievements. Yes, we teach and do service and other non-research activities, but ultimately we are researchers. Thus this is how we talk to each other.
  2. Academics have been primarily trained to be researchers and are good at it. They may not either have training in other areas or think of themselves as good in those areas. Thus they speak of their research as it is their ‘good thing’.
  3. Academics are experts in their field and may feel that that expertise transfers to or justifies their position in leadership. Thus, in a group, they have to establish their research credentials.
  4. Research talk is the language of the land. Thus talking about research achievements is normal, while talking about leadership achievements feels like bragging.
  5. Leadership talk is not a common language. Thus we don’t know what to talk about beyond what our current role is.

Is this an issue? If you believe in the Authentic Leadership paradigm which contains a fair amount of self-reflection, then it is an issue. At best it is shallow, as it puts the deep reveal in safe and irrelevant areas (remember, we are in a leadership development setting). At worst it sets up false identities and expectations, as participants become identified with their research rather than their leadership.

It can become less of an issue if the group moves past the opening and reveals more about their leadership selves, if the research self can be used to inform the leadership self, or if the leadership identity can be brought out and celebrated in later meetings. All of these depend both on the facilitator and the buy-in from the group.


Admired Leaders

Thoughts on an exercise to identify leaders I admire.

One of the first exercises in the leadership workbook is to identify 5 leaders I admire. I’m finding this difficult as I don’t think much about people that are in the usual leader categories: presidents and foreign leaders, military leaders, and business leaders. There are people that I’ve admired actions or decisions they’ve made, but I haven’t pursued them more extensively. It would be easier to look only at a single action, but I’ve read ahead and see that we have to think about the character and qualities of these people.

So my first list, penned one morning at a McDonald’s was this:

  1. Ronald Reagan (first election and president during college years; ‘won’ the cold war, seemed to see beyond party lines)
  2. Jesus Christ (a classic, meaningful and influential; not comfortable with following the “Jesus as a Business Leader’ path, but for relationships, a good choice)
  3. Bill Gates (I thought I needed an actual business leader and I like tech; unique in some sense by managing to stay in charge from dorm-room startup to international multi-billion dollar company)
  4. Cathy Family (Chick Fil A, probably Don, current CEO) (Another business choice; preservation of their family values in running the business in face of opposition (and lost profit), read some about the discussions related to the controversy and their efforts to learn and adjust)
  5. Martin Luther King, Jr (another classic, clear mission, unique solutions)

I then started thinking more about people I’ve served with or under and came up with a few more. I did limit myself to not mention people that I currently work with, because that could be weird and I think identifying strengths and weaknesses takes time. I think I’ll save them for another time.

I’ve also thought (and worried) about what this list says about me. One thought is that as a mathematician I connect more to ideas than the person generating the idea, so maybe it makes sense that I don’t really have a strongly identified set of admired leaders.  I think in the next phase where we look at characteristics of these leaders, I’ll hopefully see an admired list of values.