Monday, February 1, 2016

What does Leadership look like?

What Does Leadership Look Like?
Sandy Cameli, EdD • Educational Specialist, HIDOE

Does Leadership have a set definition, a permanent structure or standardized guidelines? Is Leadership based on the nurture or nature philosophy? Is it necessary to lead the same way as colleagues do, or vice versa? How does one know if one is leading correctly? Are individuals, in leadership roles, automatically viewed as leaders by others? When one looks in the mirror - does one see a leader? What should Leadership look like?

In his 2010 Toronto TEDx Talk, Drew Dudley, defines leadership by the "lollipop moments" in life ( His dynamic presentation - viewed by 2.2 million and counting - reminds us of how Leadership has been over-glorified, hierarchical, and relegated to positions of authority; when in reality Leadership is developed, sustained and shared by valuing experiences with others, through everyday moments.  I won't spoil his "Lollipop Leadership" story here - but encourage anyone who is struggling with understanding effective Leadership to watch Dudley's TED Talk.

As a survivor of educating middle level learners, I had the opportunity to teach a course entitled, "Student Leadership" - the successor to traditional student government. The main goal was to empower any student to have a voice, without being elected, and to find a purpose in representing peers through service-learning projects. During the early days of any given semester, when a new group of student leaders began the term, I would invite them to identify a leader - famous or not - and to venn-diagram the selected person and him/herself, by comparing & contrasting positive attributes. The task always became an eye-opening exercise when students struggled to find similarities between themselves and their chosen role model. Often times I would hear, "I'm not a leader like her because I'm not powerful" or "We don't share any similarities because I'm not famous". However, the most common of reactions was, "I can't be a leader like him - no one listens to me".  Usually that last statement was followed by simultaneous nodding from peers in the room, which soon prompted Socratic-like conversations (and debates) about who can be considered a leader, or not. In early-adolescent terms good leaders listened; and, if others don't listen to you, then you cannot be a leader. These 12 & 13 year olds were echoing what adults often say about elected officials, employment supervisors or those whom they look up to, in various Leadership capacities, but the students were also articulating: We simply want to be heard, seen and valued by those leading the way.

As a reflective practitioner (then and now), I ask myself the same questions - is a leader one who is listened to, by others? Can I be effective if I'm not heard? Is walking the walk enough, or does messaging need to accompany actions? Was I born with leadership traits, or have certain skills been honed by experiences and opportunities? When I venn-diagram my own role models, do we share similar characteristics, and if so, do we get similar results? And, when I study the mirror, what image is reflected back?

I've come to the conclusion that anyone can be called a leader, whether by others or self-proclaimed; however, Leadership is not a solo act, but a collective one which focuses on the good of the whole.   So while I do not pretend to have all of the answers to the initial questions posed, I do believe leaders - with effective Leadership styles - are artful and compassionate listeners, who create opportunities to  guide and empower others, and look like the embodiment of trust, respect, humility and compassion.

A Leader empowers self; Leadership empowers others.


  1. I am in my fourth year of teaching and found myself shaking my head yes over and over as I read your blog. I often think people who say things like "That person (in a leadership role) is so nice" really are noticing what you identified so clearly in your last sentence. Kindness can=trust, respect,humility and compassion. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  2. My thoughts are a Leaders success is done by problem solving and being positive listeners. Behaviors are changed when there are positve examples demonstrated and other can learn.