Oxford dictionary defines leadership as “the action of leading a group of people or an organization, or the ability to do this” (1). This definition is nicely nuanced in that it suggests one does not have to actually lead a group of people to possess qualities of a leader, or demonstrate leadership. Furthermore, I would argue that physically leading a group of people or organization does not guarantee an individual demonstrates proper leadership. The militaries of the world including our Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have a reputation of operating under strict management protocols with earned ranks displayed on a uniform, in which that rank allows the privileges and responsibility of leading those ranked below you and following orders of those above you. My 8 years in the CAF have provided opportunities to be part of and witness some of the finest, and some of the worst, examples of leadership imaginable. There’s a good chance that someone might guess that as I interacted and observed increasingly higher ranked members at work, the quality of leadership improved, yet this has not always been the case. My experiences in the CAF have shown me that individuals are put into or find themselves leading a group of people, but few actually possess the ability to do this.
There are a variety of styles of leadership; autocratic, democratic and laissez-faire as originally defined by Kurt Lewis (2) in 1939, that define a leader’s approach, however it is my opinion based on my experiences, particularly those in the forces, that a good leader possesses all leadership styles and knows when to employ each one. I have seen individuals succeed as leaders because of their perhaps learned, perhaps innate ability to balance leadership styles and I have equally seen individuals never truly display leadership because they relied too heavily on the rank on the shoulder and were overly autocratic, or failed to establish the respect of their team because they were too intent on staying in everyone’s good graces. My goal as a leader, in my work environment, at school and in the future as a leader in business and health care is to establish my position as the leader of the group, share my vision, plan of action and expectations, and then operate as democratically as possible. This goal is a very basic framework that can be built upon based on the situation, for example, when I am the owner/operator of my own chiropractic clinic, the necessity of employing an autocratic style of leadership may arise more often than desirable. That reality is exactly that, a reality that comes with entrepreneurship, if I want to maintain my position at the top.
Unlike my future plans of owning a clinic where I sit at the top, for very good reasons, group situations such as those in the education environment require a different balance of the leadership framework I hope to build upon. There are often instances where I do not choose to become the de facto leader of the group but am given the privilege and responsibility. I believe this happens for a variety of reasons, but I believe it comes down to the second part of Oxfords definition of leadership; no one in our group is told, or even required to be the leader, yet my peers believe I have the ability to be the leader and I get the opportunity to display leadership when I accept the position (1). I see this happen to many people, as some shy away from leadership opportunities and others thrive, be it in group conversation or offering an audible answer to a professors question in class.
In order to be a successful leader I believe one of the most important factors is gaining the respect and trust of one’s peers, regardless of their position above or below. This respect comes from actively listening to subordinates, but not bending to their every wish or demand, supporting them in their life and career, and taking swift action when things need to get done or addressed. In other words, it means being autocratic when necessitated, being democratic when possible and laissez faire when, hopefully, the respect and trust is truly mutual.
- leadership – definition of leadership in English | Oxford Dictionaries [Internet]. Oxford Dictionaries | English. 2017 [cited 26 January 2017]. Available from: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/leadership
- Lewin K, Lippitt R, White R. Patterns of Aggressive Behavior in Experimentally Created “Social Climates”. The Journal of Social Psychology. 1939;10(2):269-299.