Charismatic, transactional, transformational, distributed, ethical, autocratic, democratic, situational, laissez-faire, transparent, strategic – these are all adjectives that have been used to qualify the term “leadership” in an attempt to explain, describe, prescribe, or suggest definitions of or approaches to it.
Learning about leadership (and leadership theories – the “adjectives”) is important. These adjectives and their associated bodies of research and theory – the books, articles, and conference presentations – are all ways of examining a social phenomenon. We can use these ways of thinking about the phenomenon called “leadership” to evaluate how to make our organizations more effective about what they do. However, as Clemmer has stated, “leadership is a verb, not a noun” (Clemmer 1999, p. 16). Leadership as a social phenomenon is not theory, it is action and therefore should really a verb. However, it is not necessarily visible – it is the internal action within the “leadershipper” as well as the interaction between the leadershipper and his/her followers.
Leading is the process of guiding others to move in a common direction. A leader can be evaluated on his/her ability to lead by measuring the movement of an organization in a particular direction. Leadershipping, on the other hand, is the process of how the leading occurs. Leadershipping is actively and consciously applying leadership theories through in-the-moment (and out-of-the-moment) reflection in order to lead more effectively. It is reflection-in-action that happens within the leadershipper and therefore can’t be seen. It is much harder to evaluate, yet is essential to be a good leader. To focus, then, is to reflect.
How to Focus
This section is particularly easy to write and especially difficult to implement. Leadershipping is reflective practice about leading, and there are many ways to practice this discipline. Reflective practice is simply reflecting on one’s professional practice (Schön 1983; Day 2000). In the context of reflective practice, Day provides a useful definition:
Essentially, reflection involves a critique of practice; the values that are implicit in that practice; the personal, social, institutional and broad policy contexts in which practice takes place; and the implications of these for improvement of that practice. (Day 2004, p. 111)
Reflective practice in leadershipping applies this critique within the context of leadership theory (<adjective> leadership).
The critique is both: cognitive and affective; personal and professional; individual and collaborative. It is also very risky, both socially and personally and there are some definite blocks to successful reflection. These blocks are not insurmountable, but they need to be actively addressed in order to ensure that reflection is regular, systematic, and also reflexive. The biggest of these is time – finding time in a busy schedule to make room for systematic/habitual reflection. Reflection (if not reflexive) can also become too emotional or too intellectual – it needs to be a balance between these two to be personally engaging yet objective. The lack of objectivity can also allow personal blind-spots to develop, which indicates a lack of connection to the big picture.
Leadershipping is reflexive, as the reflection is not just on the application of the theory in the moment, it is also on the inner reflective process itself. A leadershipper reflects on his/her reflecting. For example, a reflexive leadershipper could realize that his/her reflection process was really about justifying his/her actions (or feelings), not about improving or changing how he/she leads.
Clemmer, J. (1999). Growing the distance: Timeless principles for personal, career, and family success. Kitchener, ON, TCG Press.
Day, C. (2000). “Effective leadership and reflective practice.” Reflective Practice 1(1): 113-127.
Day, C. (2004). A passion for teaching. London, RoutledgeFalmer
Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York, Basic Books.