I am sure that sometime in your life you have opened a loaf of bread and found it had lost its soft and tender feeling. The bread has lost its freshness. Like that bread, Leadership has a Shelf Life. Fortunately, while the bread needs to be tossed, your leadership capacity can be renewed. Taking time to freshen your leadership capacity keeps your work from becoming stale and outdated.
Leadership at Every Level
As Sr. Director, Energy and Sustainability at USG Corporation, I lead the energy, environmental, product safety and health and sustainability efforts for the corporation. At USG, we emphasize leadership at every level. Each person has the opportunity and the responsibility to take a leadership role concerning various initiatives that he or she is passionate about or responsible for. Whether you are an entry-level accountant, an experienced mid-level manager, or a seasoned executive, we all have to lead people to achieve a common goal. Without each of us accepting this challenging, we leave the future in someone else’s hands. By being willing to take a leadership role, it not only helps the company grow, but it helps each of us to become stronger and better prepared for the next challenge. We need to begin training tomorrow’s leaders today and leadership at every level is a key component in that process.
The Imperfect Leader
Peter G. Northouse, a global scholar in the area of leadership theory, defines leadership as “a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (Northouse 2015). When people have goal congruence, they are set-up for success. Without this, the future becomes muddied. There are many examples of great leadership throughout history. In class, we discussed many names you may recognize as great leaders such as Gandhi, Mother Theresa, MLK, Mandela, and many others. As we reviewed each of these great leaders in detail, it was clear that for all that they achieved, they were all imperfect in leaders in some portion of their lives. It is essential for all of us to remember that all people are imperfect in some way. These flaws become all the more evident thanks to today’s transparency in the media. It is our collective responsibility to look for the good in people, respect the positive contributions they have made, and give them a second chance when they stumble.
Leadership Theory – A growing and evolving body of knowledge
In class, we spent many hours reviewing various approaches to understanding leadership theory. Having been a leader in various operations and departments of a major corporation over the last 25+ years, it was amazing for me to learn how little I knew about the numerous approaches to understanding leadership that have been developed over the past 150+ years.
As leaders, we all have a shelf life, but the good news is “it’s renewable.” I believe you can extend your shelf by deepening your understanding of various leadership approaches. Here are five common theories you may want to explore further:
- Authentic Leadership – focuses on high integrity, values driven leaders with a deep sense of purpose who are committed to building truly sustainable organizations.
- Transformational Leadership – concentrates on the leader’s engagement with followers, creating a strong connection that increases the level of motivation and morality in both the leader and the follower.
- Servant Leadership – asks leaders to focus on knowing and understanding their followers first, empowering them and nurturing them to help the organization flourish.
- Adaptive Leadership – leaders empower their followers to address and resolve challenges that are central to their lives and encourage and support them to help them and their organizations thrive.
- Leader-Member Exchange Theory – describes leadership as a process that is focused on the interactions between the leaders and the followers.
If you want to learn more about these and other theories, I recommend you check out Dr. Peter G. Northouse’s latest book, Leadership, Theory and Practice or spend time reviewing other topics on the CVDL website.
It is important to remember that all of us are leaders and all of us are followers in different roles we play in life. Whether you are coaching your child’s team, teaching a classroom of students, running a global corporation, or presiding over your homeowner’s association, we all have the opportunity and responsibility to lead in various times of our lives.
Take the challenge, maximize the opportunity, and be a leader at every level in your life. As we have seen with other famous leaders, none of us are perfect, but we all can and should embrace our inner leader. We all have a lot more to learn about leadership, but we can do it together.
No worries… Even if we have become an old, stale leader in today’s fast-paced, transparent world, we can always learn new ways to be a better leader in a future.
We can renew our shelf lives!
Al Zucco is Sr. Director, Energy and Sustainability at USG Corporation, and a student in the Center’s Ph.D./D.B.A. program in values-driven leadership.