As leadership educators and developers, the questions we get our students to ask themselves have a tremendous impact on both their desire and ability to lead. Most important, they learn to lead by leading, beginning with leading themselves. With that realization, I believe that in the future we should move beyond talking to students about leadership. We must create opportunities for them to be leaders, to do leadership. When we design these learning experiences right we can liberate the leader within everyone. This was precisely the insight which one student reported in her final reflective essay:
"With almost every previous leadership workshop I have been a part of in the past, the actual work on leadership skills ended 45 seconds after we were dismissed. We may have looked at surveys from our peers where they gave us anonymous, honest feedback on our leadership styles. We may have even performed some advanced self-reflection.
During the [Leadership Challenge] workshops, we learned about leadership theory, heard tales of great leadership moments, and worked in teams on challenging problems, exposing the importance of leadership. This course was different in two ways. First, there is a natural and organic structure to the five key areas of exemplary leadership. It is a structure that allows for focusing one's energies in areas that require the most attention. They also provide a sort of troubleshooter's guide to benchmark your efforts against, to create the most productive and inspired environment with one's teams. Second, learning did not end when we left the classroom. I have never before spent as much time and energy after a productive workshop reflecting on my own leadership style, articulating and refining my leadership goals, and actually practicing my leaderships skills. As with the pursuit of mastery of any new skill, we must develop a habit of success which is usually earned through dealing with familiar situations in entirely new ways."
Each day provides our students (truly each one of us) the chance to become better leaders. Each day offers opportunities to provide leadership. Each day serves up the prospect of leaving a legacy. Here is how one student nailed this same point, when he concluded: "The first important lesson that I have learned is that leadership is a lifelong practice, it is not necessarily inherent. While I do believe that there are some born leaders, individuals who have a natural talent to lead, even those leaders can improve if they practice the skills and focus on daily improvement. More importantly perhaps, it is not a weakness to need to, and choose to, practice leadership skills. It is another step in the desire for self improvement, one that allows for ever greater achievement through the powers of high performing teams working effectively toward a common purpose."
As our colleague John Maxwell, himself the author of numerous books on leadership, told us, "It's been said that there are two kinds of people in life: those who make things happen and those who wonder what happened. Leaders have the ability to make things happen. People who don't know how to make things happen for themselves won't know how to make things happen for others." He went on to tell us that "what you do with the future means the difference between leaving a track record and leaving a legacy."
Developing leaders is not the result of wishful thinking, reading a book, or taking a class. Developing leaders is the result of determined doing, from the inside out.
© 2009 by the Association of Leadership Educators. All Rights Reserved. Excerpted from Barry Posner's article "From Inside Out: Beyond Teaching About Leadership," published in the Journal of Leadership Education, Volume 8, Issue 1 - Summer 2009. To view the entire article, as well the current issue and previous journal issues, please visit http://www.leadershipeducators.org/JOLE.
Barry Posner is Professor of Leadership at the Leavey School of Business, where he served as Dean for 12 years, at Santa Clara University. Together with Jim Kouzes, he is author of The Leadership Challenge and over twenty other books and workbooks on leadership and leadership development.