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Four Years at the Mount

Leadership in action

Leadership: A self-help guide

Michael Kenney Jr.
MSN Class of 2019

(1/2017) A couple of weeks ago, my dad and I went on a road trip from Pennsylvania to Detroit. Our most substantive conversations always arise on road trips, and on this particular drive, we discussed this monthís article topic: Leadership. I consider my dad to be a great leader, both per-sonally and professionally, so naturally, I gained a lot from our 500 mile conversation. Our talk revolved around a couple of key questions: Who are the best leaders and what makes them so successful? Likewise, who are the worst leaders, and what makes them ineffective?

As we drove over mountains and through plains, we talked about the leaders we know. I con-sidered people whom I know through school, athletics, and work. I also thought about individu-als whom I have never met personally, but have observed in the media, professional athletics, and politics. I concluded that the best leaders are the most virtuous, hardworking, positive, char-ismatic and resilient people on the planet. In contrast, the worst leaders are manipulative, lethar-gic, indecisive, temperamental and easily demoralized. But where do I fit into this equation?

By the end of our car ride, I had generated a blueprint -- a type of "self help" guide -- to help me grow into the best leadership I can be. It begins with the notion that everyone is a leader.

Everyone is a Leader

Among the many definitions of leadership, I am particularly drawn to one written by John C. Maxwell, author of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership and The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, which simply states that "leadership is influence." Regardless of whether or not the influence is positive or negative, if you cause someone to think or act differently, you are leading them. From the jovial cashier who makes you smile every time you see her to the professor who works your finger to the bone every day, people who cause you to think or act a certain way are the leaders in your life. With that being said, there are a couple key notions to consider.

Carefully consider the people and things that lead you. From music, television, and litera-ture to employers, friends, and family, think about the influence that they have in your life. Is there a way to root out the negative influences and instead invest in the positive influences? Cer-tainly, this sounds clichť, but itís important because the people and things who lead you will in-evitably influence how you lead others.

You are a leader because you have influence over people in your lives. Thus, you have the responsibility to act accordingly. Who do you have influence on in your life? Your children? Your co-workers? Your spouse? Leadership will look differently in all of these contexts, but itís important to never underestimate the power you have as a leader in your day-to-day life.

Good leadership is not synonymous with effective leadership

Before you begin reflecting upon your leadership style, it is important to differentiate good leadership and effective leadership. Good leadership evokes virtuous action while effective leadership evokes impactful action. Leaders can be both "good" and "effective," but good people are not always the most effective leaders and vice versa.

To highlight this point, think about two diametrically opposed leaders-- Hitler and Mother Teresa, for example. Hitler, though nefarious, was an effective leader. He caused a num-ber of people to adopt in anti-semitic ideas while also sparking global action; a massive number of people were influenced by Hitler, even if they did not have a strong stance for or against his policies. Mother Teresa, on the other hand, embodied the qualities of both a good and effective leader as she sparked virtue on a massive scale. Her legacy continues even after her death as the Sisters of Charity betters the world day in and day out.

The best leaders, like Mother Teresa, are both virtuous in their motives and effective in implementing them. What measures can you take to optimize your leadership? Donít worry; weíll get there.

Being both a good and effective leader

In order to optimize your leadership, first identify your level of effectiveness and virtue. I can bet that your level will fall somewhere in the large gap between Mother Teresa and Hitler. But where?

Compile a list of ten qualities that you want to radiate. From this list, pick your top five strengths, and come up with ways to bolster them. Likewise, identify five weakest qualities and think about qualities that would foil them. Once the list is numbered, place it in a place you will encounter on a daily basis.

As you go through your morning routine, think about the opportunities that will arise in the day ahead of you, and consider ways exercise your strengths and build upon your weak-nesses. Perhaps you generate ways to practice patience before your kids go to school, discipline on your car ride to the grocery store, and competency at your workplace. Then, as you go about your nightly routine later that day, reflect upon your day, specifically in regards the qualities that you wanted to accentuate. Overtime, your list may evolve as you begin to notice new strengths and weaknesses. Nevertheless, this simple, daily practice will inevitably help you become more intentional in your influence towards others.

Leadership is a lifelong process

Your leadership will evolve or devolve based on the people and things that you permit to influence you and based on the way you handle the opportunities in front of you. Optimizing your leadership certainly wonít be a cakewalk. It will come without a fair amount of trial and error, but donít be intimidated. In my opinion, the best leaders are lifelong learners.

Read other articles by Michael Kenney Jr.