On Leadership

Dean's Reflections

Depending on your politics, you may or may not agree with this issue’s feature story, “The Economics of the Great Healthcare Debate,” by my colleague, Sean Keehan, affiliate professor of healthcare economics, which focuses on the economics of healthcare spending. But you can’t question the impact this issue will have on next year’s 57th Presidential Election. The topic, and the rapid acceleration of debates among President’s Obama’s potential Republican opponents, got me thinking about leadership and the most important characteristics to consider when choosing a leader.

While strategic vision and the ability to lead your organization—and in this instance, your country—is crucial to success, I believe the important thing to keep in mind is that leading is a marathon, not a sprint. Leading is not something that comes easily or is truly mastered. I believe the right type of leader varies not only with the type of organization, but also its stage of development. Some leaders can adapt from environment to environment, from one phase to another in an organization’s evolution. But sometimes, new circumstances call for new leadership.

An individual with strong skills can be a good manager; one with passion can be a zealot; and one with soul can be a good philosopher; but it takes all three to be a leader. There’s a great quote by James MacGregor Burns, “Divorced from ethics, leadership is reduced to management and politics.” I believe this ethos is very consistent with the approach to leadership we take at the Sellinger School.

Effective leaders take all stakeholders into account. Leading is not based on a title, a position on one issue, or a hierarchy within an organization. We are all leading others in one way or another—we can do that well and consciously or coast along and miss opportunities to make a real difference. Effective leadership is a function of how we lead; where we lead from; where we lead to; what you are leading; and why you lead.

I would be remiss not to acknowledge a great leader lost to his battle with pancreatic cancer, Steve Jobs. As it happens I believe he epitomized the assets I discussed above. Take a look at this article, I think it does a nice job of outlining one of the great lessons Steve Jobs taught us about leadership by example—no one is expected to have all of the answers all of the time; however, how we respond to the unexpected challenges, opportunities, and choices that we face speaks to our character as leaders. We must be prepared for twists and turns along the way; we are tested by time and circumstances.

Finally, take a moment to view this video interviewing one of our own professors, Peter Lorenzi, Ph.D. Peter summarizes the concept of effective leadership perfectly, “Leadership is systematic, purposeful influence. It has to be organized; it has to have a strong sense of purpose or vision behind it; and it has to have the ability to change people, including yourself.”

I urge you also to reflect on some of these facets of leadership over the next year as you weigh your opinions of our country’s next leader—and in your everyday life. And as always, please do reach out to me at sellingerdean@loyola.edu if you’d like to discuss this or any other topic in more detail.