Reticence to lead? You may be exactly what is needed!

We live in a time when “leadership” is said to be in very short supply across all sectors of our community and more widely across the world. The familiar lament about the lack of “leadership” in our Federal Parliament is now matched by our shock at the seeming absence of effective leadership in our key banking and financial sectors. Globally, we despair at the deteriorating state of the critically important institutions and procedures previous generations created to govern international affairs and ensure the welfare of our planet.

Within Education, many teachers and educators will have a concept of “leadership”; what it comprises, which will often be formed by one’s first hand experience in the workplace which may not necessarily be positive. Some will propose an exemplar “leader” or “leadership” style from other contexts or historic events. Winston Churchill is commonly heralded as a supreme “leader” whose personal qualities and achievements are cited as the embodiment of “leadership” with relevance beyond his own place in politics and world history.

Yet, a reluctance to step into a senior leadership role; a reticence to believe that you could actually be a “leader” is something that many people feel and often experience from an early age. Whether it is in the context of putting up your hand to be the captain of your sports team, nominating oneself for an internal promotion at our workplace, may baulk at the prospect of stepping, or being nudged, forward into positions of greater authority and responsibility. We understand that doing so immediately separates us from friends, our peers or our colleagues; and believe that it will place demands upon us which we cannot possibly fulfill.

So we might take heart in a student reported in The Age newspaper (Melbourne Australia)  at the beginning of 2019 which asserts that self-doubt about one’s capacity for leadership may well be a critical quality for actually becoming a successful “leader”.  The report bluntly states that a common trait of many appalling leaders is their undoubted self-belief in their capacity to be a “leader”. Citing the example of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had to be cajoled into a political life following his prestigious military career, the report stresses, “We’ve failed to appreciate one of the key leadership traits (is) genuine reluctance to take the job.”

At the beginning of a new school year, the report gives us reason to rethink the qualities and attributes we seek in our Educational “leaders”……..and a different perspective for framing one’s own capacity to lead.

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