Leadership Is an Activity, Not a Position

from Three Minute Leadership

The great leaders can emerge from any part of any organization, whether they have a position of authority or not.  As Dan Ebener and Borna Jalsenjak write in their new book, Leadership for the Greater Good, “Using the word ‘leader’ to include everyone who makes it to the top is a disservice to the whole idea of leadership”, which they define as “a voluntary, interactive process that intends adaptive change”.

Ebener and Jalsenjak state that leadership is an activity not a position.  It is voluntarybecause coercive measures are never leadership.  It is interactive because it requires dialogue with the people who are closest to the problem to lead adaptive change.  It is adaptive because organizations must tackle the relentless challenges which Ronald Heifetz describes as having “no easy answers”.  Adaptive leadership calls for flatter structures, bolder strategies and a more open culture, all of which will encourage even more leadership to emerge organically.

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10 Comments

  1. The article is describing how being a leader is an interactive process that will have adaptive changes. The author states how leadership is an activity to which we volunteer because we want to change in that particular way. By being voluntary we make an effort to begin interaction into which we create a dialog. These effects can cause us to make adaptive changes. When I read that article I was shocked that Leadership was an activity because it made me think about Martin Lurther King Jr or Malcolm X. The fellow leaders I have named were part of an organization that fought against Jim Crow in the 1960s. For these two powers to acknowledge they had to volunteer themselves to be the voice of the African American community. Having their voices heard gave us the equality we have now but it was an activity for them. I realized that they didn’t have to march or be public figures on this topic. They did it because they saw the change process, they cared about the individuals that were struggling and they saw change coming for our society. In the article, it states you can have positional authority in which you can have the power to create the conditions of the change. The author states that leaders can be positional figures but they don’t have to. For instance, you might believe one of your classmates is a leader because they lend the study group you were in or spoke on the topic that was being discussed. However, they took up those tasks because of the adaptive leadership process. However, I feel sometimes we look at these influential figures and automatically view them as leaders without even asking the question. Do these “leaders” even volunteer themselves to do these jobs or did society just think that just because they are there in the public eye that they should be leaders? This article has shown me that I have seen leadership as a position for years without even thinking that maybe they did volunteer themselves to be the voices for individuals that can’t fight the battles for themselves or just want a change in our society.

  2. This article discusses the concept of leadership. It discusses the qualities that take to become a leader and how leaders are made. A key claim by the author that stuck with me was how leadership is voluntary. This demonstrates that any human in society could take over a role in leadership. Any leader throughout history from someone as famous as George Washington, to the President of the Student Council, all made the decision and accountability to become a leader. Those leaders did the activities necessary to take the role of leadership to execute ideas and lead others to their vision of success. They do this because they recognize an issue or a change that must be made. Many people can do this and recognize the issue, but it is the leaders that carry out the process of change. Positional leaders are also discussed because every leader is different. Leaders have different purposes in leading, as well as different ways to lead. Leaders can be in a form of dictatorship and have complete control. The positive signs of this leader are they are assertive, and they know what they want to have done. The negative aspect of a positional leader like this is they take complete control and are less likely to hear out the people they are leading. The author also discussed the adaptive change that places people in roles of leadership. A leader like this won’t be as dominant and assertively ask a dictator, as they will be more leaders alongside the group compared to leading a group. This is because they adapt to the situation and adjust the rest of the group, they are leading. They are both important positions of leadership because leadership is needed in many different circumstances in many different matters. Leadership positions in certain situations in life are usually overlooked or taken for granted. This article gave me a different perspective on the importance of leaders and the courage it takes to take that role and lead others.

  3. This article caused me to think about leadership in a way that I never really have before. The word “leader” is a stronger word than I previously thought. I do agree with this idea that being a leader should not just mean being in charge, and rather it should mean taking steps to help lead a group to be better or do better. People that have used true leadership qualities for good intentions have done brilliant things for the people in the world and in this country, but many have also used it for negative things and that to me is very wrong. You do not need to be in charge to be a leader, you just need to take matters into your own hands when necessary and give a helping hand when someone needs it. If you do a good job of that, you are probably a better leader than most people in leadership positions in the world. Many people who consider themselves leaders see themselves as more important than who they are leading, which is a negative leadership quality and is not what you would want someone leading you to think. Leaders need to be able to make everyone around them see them as a role model and make those they are helping feel protected and welcomed under their leadership. Luckily for us, as citizens of the United States, we have had that feeling of safety and for most of the years ever since World War II. Many other people around the world, living in developing countries, do not get that same feeling of security, rather it gets replaced with a sense of fear. As US citizens, we should consider ourselves lucky to have the ability to have that sense of security at all times. But leadership is not only at the head of the Government, it is everywhere around you. Many people are great leaders but just need to find the key to unlock their potential as leaders. Once people do that and take important leadership roles, the world becomes a better place for everyone living on it.

  4. The role of leadership is often assumed as something that is given, however, the article establishes that leadership is an intrinsic value of someone willing to take an initiative that holds value. The role of leadership mainly stems from a problematic source in which many wish to see a change, encouraging a special someone to be inspired to tackle the challenge for the service of others.

    Michael J. Hart came up with a list in his book of the most influential leaders in history, “the 100, A Ranking of the most influential persons in history”. As a Christian, you would imagine he would choose Jesus (may peace and blessings be upon him). Yet he emphasized that it would be unfair to choose him as the most influential person because other candidates had a bigger influence which has led to many societal advancements today. His unbiased research had led him to choose the final prophet in Islam Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings be upon him).

    Michael J. Hart states “My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world’s most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular level.” We see why he chose him by looking at Muhammad’s story (may peace and blessings be upon him), he had established a government in a lawless land, including woman’s rights, civil law, family law, real estate law, criminal law, personal injury law, etc. He used the divine revelation of the Quran as a guide establishing these laws in society, many laws of which we use today.

    The correlation we see in this article and Michael J. Hart’s book is that leadership should not be chosen through bias but chosen from the people through a voluntary initiative to make a change for the betterment of society. As stated in the article “Leadership for the greater good involves adaptive change that places people and purpose ahead of profit.” The qualities of leadership are essential for a change in society, a leader must put aside his ego and desires, and equate the necessary action through the problems of society that arise.

    There have been many tyrant rulers which only look into their best interests over the people’s needs, and we see that when these rulers take the role of “leadership”. The result of their reign ends in the deterioration of both the people and themselves.

    As the future generation, we must take into consideration the role of leadership for ourselves, by humbling ourselves and looking into the perspectives of others to establish just action for a better result in society. This article helps the readers understand the weight of leadership and the value they must bring to the table. Not everyone is meant for leadership, but the leader must be there for the improvement of everyone.

  5. The article describes how sometimes society labels people as a leader prematurely. Overall, this is a very interesting topic to think about. While growing up, you always hear teachers encouraging people to be a leader. Being a follower was driven into your head as a bad thing. Back then, it was as much of a way to inspire kids to do great things on their own as to getting kids to not get in trouble with their fellow classmates. Overall, the ability to lead is a skill that is often sawed after. The article states that a leader can come from anywhere. It isn’t the position that makes the leader, it’s the person and how they choose to act. I really like this concept because it leads to people wanting to do the best for their self and others no matter what position they hold. You can be as much of a leader as the person who sweeps the floor as the person who signs the checks, it all depends on how you handle the situation given to you. The article lists multiple steps and qualities that must be checked off in order to be a good leader. These qualities include but aren’t limited to someone who, “involves people in the change process, listens to their cares and concerns, engages them in creating the change, and opens up the culture to encourage anyone to lead.” I like these steps because like I said before, anyone can practice and live by these standards. Nowhere does it say, “have a big authoritarian influence over someone.”, it’s just based off of having good communication skills as well as a good head on your shoulder. In some scenarios where people are appointed the position to lead, they struggle. Leading isn’t something that you can wake up one day and decide that you’re going to be good at. Society takes advantage of those who can competently lead. You are more likely to see a story about someone doing the wrong thing than someone doing the right thing. This means that good leaders don’t initially get as much coverage as bad leaders.

  6. I completely agree with this article in the fact that leadership is an activity and not a position. If you think about any high school sport, say wrestling because that is what I did, a leader is someone who works really hard and pushes everyone to be better without the coaches telling them too. In wrestling, when we run or we practice, it gets very tiring and intense and people start to slow down. They take the actions they do slow so they can rest and the leaders of the group, not appointed by the coaches but people who want everyone to get better push them and tell them to get up and work. This way when they do get up and work when they were going to rest, they feel more accomplished by it. A true leader is someone who wants everyone to be better no matter what position they themselves are in.

  7. While reading through the article I found many parallels between the idea of leadership and the title we give people as leaders. A leader is someone who actively works with others in a position that can be followed by many. Today in politics the title of local, national, and world “leaders” is nearly impossible to ignore. But are they leaders or just individuals in a position of power? As the article suggests, a leader is someone who not only listens to others but gets the population involved in their cause. One link to proper leadership that is often ignored is empowerment. Empowerment of individuals to step forward and want to not just join, but also lead. In having the power to empower others, communities and groups that may have not gotten the opportunity to be heard others now have the possibility of representation. I think of current movements on a national level. Every day people are stepping up and running for political office in hopes that they may encourage the younger generation, poc, women, and more to “be the change they wish to see.” In having apparent diversity in strong leadership, so many issues can be taken down at the root of the problem. That of faulty leadership. The term “leader” is given so freely. Leader has a positive connotation and therefore influence on how likely someone would be able to gain a movement around a crowd. But simply calling someone a leader doesn’t necessarily make the one. The criteria would perhaps by easier followed if those could define what a leader is not. For instance positive leadership is not found in someone who lacks transparency, empathy, passion, etc. In the future, I see this new generation forming strong ties with the ideas of leadership and representation among common people. Leaders have morphed from a powerful symbolic being, to anyone who is willing to gather a group together and serve as a messenger from them to a larger group.

  8. Leadership can mean different things to different people. To some, leadership can simply mean one person who oversees a group of people, but to me and many other people, leadership means making a positive change in the community, business, etc. The one part in this article that stood out to me is as follows, “It is voluntary because coercive measures are never leadership. It is interactive because it requires dialogue with the people who are closest to the problem to lead adaptive change. It is adaptive because organizations must tackle the relentless challenges which Ronald Heifetz describes as having no easy answers.” Voluntary, interactive, and adaptive are the key words in this section since they are the important characteristics that a leader has. Someone who steps up to the plate to start the change and interacts with their followers to gather ideas and input, along with changing plans due to obstacles would be considered as a leader according to this article.
    The title of this article, Leadership Is an Activity, Not a Position, makes a lot of sense when one thinks about what exactly leadership means. There is a difference between a leader and leadership. The leader is in the position, or fills the role, of someone who is in charge. Whereas someone who has the qualities that make up leadership, is someone who works collaboratively with others to reach a common end goal and make a positive change. The article explains this more simply as, “Leadership for the greater good involves adaptive change that places people and purpose ahead of profit.” An example of leadership would be someone who has the idea of starting a nonprofit organization to help their community in some way and would do this through finding other individuals who support the cause and encourage them to work together to make this happen. This relates to the article because the “leader” in this scenario is actively doing something to improve current conditions, rather than just filling the position of a leader and bossing commands to followers. Leadership is important in the business world because it creates an effective and efficient business environment where diverse individuals can work together to get tasks done. Without leadership, there would be chaos and dysfunction and not as many goals would be accomplished on time. There are different types of leadership, and it depends on the individual’s personality, but everyone can learn skills and developing the qualities it takes to be a good leader.

  9. I agree with the overall premise of the article, that leadership is an activity, not a position. There are some people who are put into leadership roles but it doesn’t mean that they have what it takes to be a leader. On the other hand, there are people who are put into leadership positions who have what it takes to be a leader. Leadership is not based on the position you are put in, it is an activity. Anyone can be a leader. The definition of leadership given by Dan Ebener and Borna Jalsenjak explains the idea of leadership quite well, in saying that it is “a voluntary, interactive process that intends adaptive change”(Ebener and Jalsenjak). This definition breaks down leadership into three characteristics. The first characteristic is that it is voluntary. It is up to one’s self to decide whether they want to step up and lead in a certain situation. The second characteristic is that it is an interactive process. This means that a leader can’t lead by themselves. Leaders are constantly seeking out the opinions of those around them and looking for new information that can help them in solving a problem. The last characteristic is that it intends adaptive change. This means that leaders drive change, whether that be solving a problem at work, completing a group project, or driving better results in a sports team. They want to help solve problems and inspire a change for the better.

    Leaders can be found anywhere. They can change with every situation. Some people can choose to be leaders in certain situations and some are not comfortable stepping up at all. You do not need the title of a manager or a team captain in order to be a leader. Anyone who decides to step up and take charge in a situation can be a leader. Leaders are an important thing to have as they help provide clarity on a situation, keep all ideas organized, and motivate the group. They can drive a group to become more efficient, boost morale, and inspire confidence in those around them. Problems are solved more efficiently when there is a leader guiding decision making in a group rather than everyone working individually for themselves. The decision of whether or not to be a leader lies in one’s self, it is not something given by a position. It is an activity which requires seeking out the opinions of others and inspires change for the better.

  10. This article is all about leadership and how it is an activity and not a position. Although people are given positions ahead of others, it takes more that just that name in order to be a leader. I was a leader and or captain of multiple of my sports teams in high school. The coaches decided that I was a leader not because I was the best player, but because I communicated with the rest of the team and showcased traits of leadership. I have had some bad leaders in my time, as a leader its not your job to boss people around because that leads to less communication and teamwork in group. Instead leaders should involve everyone, listen to others, engage with their thoughts, and encourage others to lead. Just because you are a captain or a boss doesn’t mean that you are good leader. Like stated in this article being a leader isn’t a potion it is an activity. Everyone in this world can be a leader, you just need to develop the right qualities in order for people to respect you and wanna follow you. Hence why many bosses during some of your first days try to socialize with you and maybe even bring you out to dinner. It is because they understand that it takes teamwork and communication to be a leader, just because you are the leader doesn’t mean that you need to have the lead position. As a leader you just need to guide the ideas of others in order to flourish as a team. Like I mentioned earlier I have seen leaders that have failed and I have seen leaders who were successful. The failed leaders all had one thing in common, it was either their way or the highway. This way of leadership doesn’t work because it doesn’t allow members of team to use their heads and think of the best ways to go at a challenge with their skill sets. The best leaders allow their team to use their abilities and skills in order to help each other out and do their best work.

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