Called to Lead challenges students to define, identify leadership traits

Emily Drinks September 11, 2014 0

“Leadership is something you can use in almost every situation in life, regardless of your official title,” Stacey Zimmerman, the assistant director of Called to Lead, said while facilitating the event “What Does Leadership Mean to You?” on Tuesday, Sept. 2 in Hoover 110.

Zimmerman focused on allowing students to make their own definitions of leadership.  She began by having students split up into two groups: those who consider themselves leaders and those who are unsure of whether or not they are leaders.  Each group thought of three words explaining why they put themselves either in the leadership group or the unsure group.  The group who labeled themselves as leaders chose the words “responsible,” “energetic” and “innovative.”  The students explained responsibility as being able to handle tasks and perform them in a timely manner.  Energy related to the ability to motivate and inspire others to act and achieve goals.  Innovation involved producing new ideas or more efficient ways to perform tasks. Those in the unsure group thought of the words “flexible,” “context” and “adviser.” The groups stated that they felt they had the flexibility to be both leaders and followers, adding that the word context applied to whether a situation called for them to lead or not. They also said that in some circumstances they feel more of a need to function as an adviser rather than take a position of leadership.

Zimmerman next had the students split into groups again. The first group was for those who believed leaders were born, and the second believed leaders were made. The groups each came up with two reasons for why they chose their group. The first group said they believed leaders were born based on the time period. For instance, women would not have been allowed to lead up until a few decades ago; however, now they have the freedom to become leaders. They further stated that personality, a trait that goes through very little change from birth to adulthood, makes some people more willing to be and capable of being leaders. The second group believed leaders were made because of skill and choice. Skills of leadership, such as public speaking or being able to work in a group, can be developed over time. A leader must also choose to take the initiative of leading a group of people.

The students next listed qualities they considered essential for leadership as well as their own definitions of leadership.  Some of the qualities listed were confidence, knowledge, drive, optimism, problem-solving efficiency and being apt at public speaking. Zimmerman pointed out that the majority of traits the students listed were all learnable traits, indicating that if people chose to, they could learn the skills necessary to become a leader. Additionally, she stated that most great leaders will recognize areas
they are weaker in and surround themselves with people who are stronger in those areas.

Zimmerman closed by going over various definitions and qualities experts have given concerning leadership. Earlier leadership theory, called “the great man theory,” proposed that only kings and royalty are capable of leading; however, more recently, people are discussing “trait leadership theory,” which suggests that anyone can become a leader by learning certain skills.  “Most individuals now feel that leaders are made. It’s a behavior; it is something you can learn,” Zimmerman said. Most important, she stressed, was that all individuals are capable of being leaders. She added, “Leadership is not a gene or an inheritance.”  Instead, it is an ability that every individual can develop and hone the necessary qualities in order to become effective leaders.

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