Every executive, consultant, graduate educator, and employee has his or her own definition of leadership. Some of those definitions, while they seem to make good sense, are too narrow and basic. They are not practical nor are they accurate. They fail to capture the complexity of the leader and leadership. Other definitions are laced with metaphors and “secret knowledge.” These definitions use impressive verbiage, employ the language of the organizational insider, but leave the reader knowing nothing more about how to actually lead. Additionally, many definitions talk about leadership as an activity, that is, something people “do.” There is a complete absence of words that describe the importance of the person behind the work of leadership. So, while you might be expecting my own definition, I am going to direct you to a definition that I have come to appreciate and value the more I study, teach, and consult around leadership. This definition captures the essence of who a leader is, what a leader does, and the outcome(s) of leadership. This comes from Peter Northouse (2016) in his excellent text, Leadership: Theory and Practice (7th ed.). Northouse states it this way:
I teach leadership in both undergraduate and graduate programs at my university. Additionally, I provide leadership development and management consulting in the private and public sectors. So much of what happens in both settings revolves around providing tools and specialized knowledge that facilitate leadership development and effective leadership and management execution. Without exception, students and/or clients are looking for tools, resources, strategies, and specialized knowledge which will allow them to help resolve barriers, facilitate, growth, and maximize performance.
Clearly, there is a burgeoning hunger to know what it takes to be the type of leader that effects change in people, performance, and systems. This is certainly worthy and critically important. We are in constant need of women and men who have the knowledge, expertise, and imagination required to effectively lead our complex organizations and the people who serve within those organizations.
What does an Afghani Fulbright Scholar have to say about western-based leadership practices? Plenty!
Nang Attal is a graduate student enrolled in my fall course entitled, Leadership and Management Excellence. From Afghanistan, Attal grew up in a rural tribal community often influenced by insurgents and extremists. What made and makes Attal unique is that he was and continues to be committed to the education of girls in a region that does not look kindly on such efforts. Attal has remained committed to this effort, despite threats and intimidation, not only because he wanted his sisters to receive an education but also because he cares deeply about equal access to an educational system for all Afghani boys and girls.
Attal’s efforts have been recognized nationally and globally. In October 2014, he was named the United Nations Youth Courage Award Recipient which was the same award given to Malala Yousafzai in 2013 for her work in advocating for the education of young girls in Pakistan. The recognition and notoriety of Attal’s accomplishments continue to mount.
And here he sits in my course in the very heart of San Francisco.