Webster’s Online Dictionary offers several definitions of leadership, among them: “the capacity to lead” and “the act or an instance of leading”. In other words, leadership could be the ability, skills and knowledge required to lead, but it could also be the act of leading itself. In our present day, we spend a lot of time talking and writing about leadership and there are myriad programs on leadership available. There are those who believe that leaders are naturally born, and others that leadership can be taught. I believe that leadership is more than a set of skills that can be taught in a seminar; leadership comes from within but must be honed and polished both by learning and experience. I would like to write about a program of that I took part in a year ago that illustrates that point.
The Program, Vital Leadership Advantage, offered by the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, takes as its starting point who the leader is. Right off the bat, the participants knew something was different, when it was pointed out to us that our name is not who we are, nor do our current titles really establish any identity for us (well, maybe Chief Bulldog starts to get there!). What establishes a person’s identity is what they stand for and where that stand takes them!
For instance, one of my deeply held commitments is for justice, and I work at not overlooking injustice when I see it. One of the co-facilitators of the seminar pointed out to me that I really was justice, and that I was a center for the creating justice. I had never really thought of it that way.
Despite that revelation, what was most impressive to me on the first day of the seminar were the people around me who were committed leaders, ranging from a man who is working to rid the Holy Land of Land Mines, several executives of major US corporations and even an executive of a charity group who I dropped off at O’Hare airport after the seminar. His next stop was Haiti!
Vital Leadership Advantage did not just look to the interior, but to the world at large, challenging us to see where we fit into the world at large and the challenges that the world faces. The question was could we find ways of approaching those challenges that were synchronous with leading the companies and other groups as we were presently engaged in?
In order to help us achieve breakthroughs, the seminar built on personal insight and clarity of vision of the world around us not just to respond to the immediate cause of problem, but to understand the underlying roots of a problem in order to cause a transformation in the situation. That transformation relied on communicating with people in order to enroll them in a solution, not coerce them into change.
The program had 6 weeks between two sessions in order for participants to work on a specific business problem and report back to the group on what they had achieved. The most frequent comment heard in the reports was, “I thought the problem was X, but it really was me!”
The Vital Leadership Advantage will take place at Notre Dame again this year, starting in March. For more information on the program, here is a link: Vital Leadership Advantage.