Tuesday, May 26, 2015

New President Interview -- Part 30 What is Leadership?

New President Interview -- Part 30 What is Leadership?

Q: The word “leadership” is commonly used in business and politics, but you seem to have a different understanding of the concept. Are leaders and managers the same people?  

A: Not every good manager is a leader and not every good leader is a manager.  If you refer
back to my definition of management quoted in part 29 of this series, management is business process.  Everyone in the organization can have management tasks and roles.  Likewise everyone can have leadership roles.  This is based on a concept from the Mishnah of Sayings of the Fathers (2:6), “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.” [1] This can be interpreted to guide everyone to take a leadership role and accomplish the task at hand.  One does not have to be the “official” leader to step “up to the plate.”

The educational process seeks to teach students to expand their understanding of themselves and the world.  In this process they need to become experts in something.  If they become experts in understanding themselves, this is a satisfactory accomplishment.  After looking into themselves and discovering their strengths and weaknesses, they can find how they fit into the world.  

An official leader is one appointed, elected or otherwise authorized by the organization. This person sets the goals and is the force to encourage the members to do their tasks.  A manager is the person who deploys and manages the time, human and financial assets needed to achieve objectives, and measures the results.  This may be the same person and it may be two or more different people.  For example the CEO may set the goals and philosophy of the organization while the president is the manager who allocates resources to accomplish the goals. 

“Leadership” is not limited to leading people.  A student learns how to lead his or her life. Taking that “first step” is a leadership role.   Taking charge of a process is a leadership role. This thought seems contradictory to some.  They say the definition of “leadership” means that people follow you.  Before you can lead others, you must learn how to lead yourself.

Q: What does it take to be a good leader?

I can tell you some of the qualities of a good leader, but I can’t give you an exact answer.  Leaders need to authority to take chances and make mistakes and learn for the betterment of the organization.  If one is always afraid of losing one’s job, prestige, or reputation, you can’t find the path to greatness.  If one is making foolish mistakes and not listening to the good advice of others, no one will believe or follow you.  Leaders have to balance risk and prudence.  Good leaders know when to listen and when to talk. Good leaders know how to use the talents of the people around them. 

Q:  The education process has many dichotomies and conflicting goals. What is the difference between education and training? 

A: Education is the process of teaching students to be productive citizens and part of society.  One challenge is that everyone is a member of multiple societies.  The society may be based on geography, ethnicity, belief systems, gender, profession, religion, or anything else that makes individuals into members of a group.  Education is helping the student to understand the role one plays in society.  That means one has to understand the language, history, sociology, law and other aspects of society.  One needs the tools such as reading, writing, mathematics, and science to master living in society.  Education inspires students to be curious, to think, to learn about the world around them, to plan and to act when the situations change. 

Training is task oriented learning.  One gets training to operate a machine or know the office procedures.  Education provides the context for fitting the machine into the world.  Education is cumulative and never ends; the tasks learned in training will some day be obsolete.

Part of the schooling process at the K-12 schools and college level is vocational.  Many employers want graduates who are ready to work and master the job.  The educator wants students to become life-long learners who are able to understand the world and meet new challenges. Teaching the thinking process is part of the teacher’s goals from the youngest to the most senior of students.  Each step of the learning process prepares one for the next.

Q: Last week I read an article, “It’s time for every student to learn to code,” by Alice Steinglass. [2]

A: I saw the article. Learning computer programming can be a way to understand logic, consequences of actions, project management, and how the world works.  I spent many years as a computer programmer.  It taught me many skills that are applicable to other areas.  One peeve I have with surveys and questionnaires with multiple choice answers is that creators don’t always have an option for “other” or “none of the above.”  In computer programs with options every option must have a consequence.  If the program asks for numeric, input, the decision tree must include provisions when 1, 0 and negative numbers are input or the program may crash.

Too often we see students and adults who have limited understanding as to the consequences of an action or decision. This process of action leads to a consequence is part of the scientific method. Too often I read about people with such a strong belief system, that strong evidence to the contrary is just not believed.

Q: Any final words?

I am never sure of the right course for people who are supposed to leaders. Politicians are elected to leadership roles. College presidents, deans and administrators are appointed, hopefully based on their abilities, experience, and strength of character, but everyone has to walk a fine line between failure to thrive, reckless decisions, and progress that will put the organization “on the map.” Without a systemic program of total quality management, someone will always feel the president or other leader is stepping on toes or making reckless decisions.

Part thirty of imaginary interviews with the president of the College. After more than 20 interviews the president is no longer “new,” but since we are all works in progress I am continuing the series as if s/he were a “new president.” Please feel free to suggest new ideas for interviews and presidential comments. This article is for your information, amusement, and edification. Everything is true, but some events have not yet happened. Any connection to a real college or president is strictly coincidental.


[1] The original Hebrew: מקום שאין אנשים השתדל להיות איש..
[2] In : Eschoolnews  May 14th, 2015    http://www.eschoolnews.com/2015/05/14/learn-code-639/

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