‘Leader’ and ‘leadership’ are not the same

Dear Editor,

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of being in the audience for a presentation organized by Blue CAPS on ‘Adaptive Leadership.’ Harvard Kennedy School Alum Floyd Haynes did the presentation. Floyd is a former student of Harvard’s Ronald Heifetz, the author of Leadership Without Easy Answers.

One of the most salient points of the presentation was that exercising leadership does not require formal authority. One doesn’t need a title, post or position to exercise effective leadership. The point struck me because in Guyana, and especially with our young people, many people feel that it is not their place to lead. We have not come of age, or maybe we feel it’s not our responsibility. In some extreme cases, the previous generation bluntly refuses to let go of the reins.

I believe that some of our fear and trepidation may actually be attributed to our misunderstanding of the terms ‘leader’ and ‘leadership.’ In his presentation, Floyd noted that the two terms are not the same. A leader may be someone that is elected to a post: a president, a CEO, an army general or someone in a position of influence or authority. Leadership, on the other hand, does not require a person to be in a specific post or hold an elected position. Anyone can exercise leadership and leadership can be exercised anywhere as long as the person is willing to do something or work to find solutions to problems that exist.

A young woman not satisfied with litter in her community can speak with her neighbours and together they can agree to all keep the front of their parapets clean, or someone in a community can start an after-school programme on the ground floor of his/her home if there is a high incidence of school dropouts, or the local school lacks teachers in particular subject areas.

Leadership is about recognizing that once you are part of a system you can take action to effect change and come up with solutions to confront problems plaguing the system. To my fellow Guyanese, leadership is about action and anyone can lead. I urge them to do so for their communities.

Yours faithfully,

Michael Leonard

BlueCAPS

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