by Joyce Helens, St. Cloud Technical & Community College
What is leadership? We hear this question and a variety of answers every day, particularly about the lack of leadership at this point in time. Leadership is both a robust research area and a defined practical skill, but after centuries of the study of leadership theories, characteristics, behaviors, and debating various viewpoints, we are no closer to knowing what leadership really is, or more importantly, how individuals can emerge as leaders and effect positive change.
The successful leader stereotype was portrayed for a very long time as a male lone wolf who led us out of a bad situation, like a superhero with amazing abilities. Whether it was a general or president who led us to victory during wartime, or a tycoon of commerce who led an industry, leaders were guys we could look up to and emulate. Some could dream and aspire to be like them, but for most of us, it was not attainable. And since the stereotype had only one leader per group, there were lots more openings for followers.
We placed leaders on pedestals and expected more and more from them. Of course they can never meet those expectations, so then the vicious cycle repeats itself, our fruitless search for that one leader who will save us. We then call our disappointment and inability to find our superhero a “leadership crisis”.
Back in 1987 the cover of Time magazine asked “Who’s in charge?” and said there was an "American Leadership Crisis" that had caused the stock market crash. As Time reported on the failed search for the leaders in the US, there was lots of blame to go around. And there was also a corresponding uptick in research on leadership development. That is when I discovered the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina, who debunked the leader stereotype and hunt for quick fixes in leadership.
The CCL research caught my attention because they were offering the idea that good leaders are made and not born, and that leadership skills were something that could be learned, but the development of what was learned could only happen successfully through “doing” or experience. Being a “hands-on” person this idea of applied learning appealed to me! So CCL conducted a massive study of successful industry leaders and asked them what contributed to that success.
The result of that study and collection of data produced decades of leadership materials, books, monographs and manuals. But I was most interested in one segment of that data, the identification of five challenging job assignments. I found in the book, "The Lessons of Experience" by McCall Jr, Lombardo and Morrison, replicable and practical guidelines to become a successful leader. One premise of the book the authors called the “gut truth” was that the primary responsibility of effective leadership development resides with the individual.
I made an effort over those next years to avail myself of those five challenging job assignments. They are a challenging project or task force assignment, a line-to-staff/staff-to-line switch, a start–up/starting from scratch project, a fix-it/turn-around project and lastly a leap in scope. I looked for, applied and volunteered for work that fit into those five job assignments and I learned a great deal through those experiences. Later I also had the satisfaction to offer others those same opportunities for leadership growth.
These varied opportunities for experience in leading, however, as excellent as they could be, did not produce leaders. I recognized early on that there was something else that was critical and central to effective leadership. I decided that leadership is the discovery of one’s core values and then living them. It is that simple. Or is it?
I do not recall in my own educational experience ever being asked, much less taught to think, about core values and what my own might be. Yet without them, we are weather vanes twisting to whatever wind blows our way. And it is no difference in any business or organization. If you discover your core values, you act from them and you make good decisions. Also, my definition of leadership means that we are all leaders. I can afford you different experiences and you can learn a great deal but until you know from your core who you are, you won’t be a leader.
St Cloud Technical College also has core values identified through an Appreciative Inquiry process we revisit every other year called our “All College Conversation Day,” which will occur again this February. It is a time for everyone at the college to come together to discuss those core values and the behaviors that translate those values into action.
SCTCC lives its values through all of us who have the honor to work at the college. We are a college of leaders developing new leaders, reaffirming our commitment to being a friendly, respectful, safe and diverse college that welcomes new ideas and different perspectives. This is the foundation of our success. We are truly a “college that works”.
This is the opinion of Joyce Helens, president of St. Cloud Technical & Community College. To A Higher Degree is published the fourth Sunday of the month and rotates among the presidents of the four largest Central Minnesota higher education institutions.
Original Story at Leadership is discovering, living core values