Leadership; Perspectives from a University seminar

I absolutely LOVE when my seminars and lectures are engaging and I leave with a brain that is buzzing with questions! So, what happens when you get 22 university students to define in 5 words what they value in leaders?

Last week I attended my fortnightly seminar for my course; Comparative Management. The seminar was based upon leadership and the different types of leadership styles. We were given a list of 40 words to choose from (and we could add our own) that we had to choose 5-6 words that we identified that we deemed essential to leadership. We first had to choose our own, and then we came together in groups of 4-5 people and collectively had to choose 5 leadership traits. The list was not comprehensive and through the discussion at the end, there were many words that could be grouped together.

Below are the results from the five different groups as I will make some comparisons between them. (I was in group 1)

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4 Group 5
Achievement Control Fairness Fairness Challenge
Recognition Involvement Expertise Cooperation Control
Trust Cooperation Involvement Integrity Cooperation
Influence Flexibility Responsibility Power Recognition
Personal Development Integrity Influence Respect Flexibility

While the task may seem simple at it’s face value, the discussion afterwards probably made this seminar one of the most memorable I have ever attended! and, this is why…

Everyone has their own ideal leadership values
This might seem like common sense, because it is, but when we lead a group of people we forget it. Take one step into any business and you’ll find a range of engaged and disengaged employees who are led by different managers with various leadership styles. Within our seminar there was no single word that everyone associated ‘leadership’ with.

A lot of stereotypical values were left out
Where did Happiness, Friendship, Tradition, and Comfort go? It’s not that we didn’t want those words included or that they don’t make a person a leader. It was the fact that, as a group of 22 Business Students, we value different qualities in a leader.

Influence was not on the list but it resonated with two groups
Influence can be defined as ‘the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something’. Now wouldn’t that be awesome if every person in a position of leadership had that capability?

For some reason, unknown to our teacher, influence was not on the original list. Did that stop two groups adding it? No! I was the one in group 1 to put forward influence and I am 99% sure that if Influence was listed, it would have been on all lists. As human beings we don’t like it when people demand us to do work or achieve tasks – we love to feel in control!

One difference between Control, Power, and Influence
As a class we acknowledged that control, power and influence all had similar traits, BUT in the process of comparing all 5 lists one word stuck out to me – Cooperation. Early in the class discussion Cooperation was the only word that occurred more than twice. It showed up in 3 of the groups but, if you notice, the two groups that did not utilise Cooperation were the two groups that added Influence. It might have been a bizarre coincidence that the words played out like this (which is awesome) but it makes you wonder, does Control/Power + Cooperation = Influence?

A dimension of Influence is ‘having the power to shape policy through status, contacts or wealth’. If a person can influence a person or a group towards achieving a collective goal then it makes a little less sense to focus on cooperation. I am glad that all groups who had control or power in their selection of words also had cooperation. I have had plenty of experience with managers who have no knowledge of their ability to influence the young staff. These managers probably don’t realise that they are relying on their ability to control or have power but lack the capacity to gain cooperation, or even better, influence.

I’ll leave it at that, even though I would love to find out if different generations would come up with similar lists. Isn’t it amazing when the lessons you are taught make you really analyse what the teacher says?

“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” -Sheryl Sandberg

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