What is leadership? Can leadership be taught My own thought on the subject was crystalized by a question from one of my students. She was finishing a three-year program in leadership development and one of the final tasks was to gather definitions of leadership. The idea was that perhaps the group would arrive at a common definition.
I went to Wentworth as a Department Head, a crucial middle management line position. I was responsible for faculty teaching assignments and for faculty annual evaluation. I was responsible for the overall quality of classroom instruction and most importantly for the effective delivery of the curriculum to the students.
The Vice President I reported to was fond of developing department heads as he was pursuing a doctorate in education himself. We were given reading homework and we spent long hours in meetings. One day I inadvertently short circuited his meeting by noting that the Department Heads job could be summed up in two sentences: Take care of the students and take care of the faculty.
Somewhat to my surprise I was asked to assume leadership of the management program upon the department head's resignation. This allowed me to do a complete revision of the management curriculum and to d o more thinking about leadership. There is always a core course in leadership and management.
Our military is based on the presumption that you can teach leadership. There are several books that discuss this idea fairly well. One is Garrison and Walsh, SEMPER FI. You might also wish to read military autobiographies. Be advised though that autobiography has been called one of the greatest forms of fiction. An exception would be the PERSONAL MEMOIRS of Ulysses S. Grant. One might expect very good writing from a Jefferson, a Madison or a John Adams and one will be pleasantly surprised by the candor and clarity of Grant.
At Wentworth we were sometimes able to get a manager to come as a one-year visiting professor in the management program. One person who impressed me was not only a manager but he had also been an Army colonel. He summed up the task of officer leadership in three sentences. Take care of your men, know your onions (know what you're doing) and lastly, be a man (Stand for something other than yourself).
One of the largest and most understandable programs in leadership is that put forth by the Boy Scouts of America. This venerable organization was founded in 1910 to foster "patriotism courage, self-reliance and kindred values." The goal was to inoculate high ideals and proper behavior. this was to be achieved through a program of outdoor activities, educational program and for the older boys participation in career programs in partnership with various community organizations.
I am fortunate enough to have had both of my sons achieve Scouting's highest rand of Eagle Scout. My daughter married an Eagle Scout. I spent 30 years in scouting as a Committee Member and a merit Badge Instructor. For many years no boy achieved advance rank in Troop 5, Brockton without passing three required citizenship badges taught by Mister St. Germain. I sat on countless board of review form First Class to Eagle Scout. I hold the Veterans Service Award that requires a minimum of 25 years of service.
My sons can tie knots, cook and survive in the outdoors. But what I find most important is that each and every boy as he passes through the ranks is called upon to serve in a leadership. Every boy gets to be a leader whether it be on the patrol or troop level. Some boys are good students, others less so. Some boys are outgoing, others less so. Some boys are confident, others less so. Leadership is not only practiced by leading in the front. Scouting never taught my sons anything harmful and EVERY boy got the opportunity to lead.
My own experience trying to forge management programs and most importantly my years in scouting have led me to my functional definition of leadership. Leadership is "attempting to do your best with and for others."