An example of effective, understated leadership

September 25, 2013 by Joshua
in Blog, Education, Leadership

I wanted to share an example of effective leadership I once saw.

When I was in graduate school, Columbia was considering its policy on allowing the military to have programs like ROTC on campus or not and held hearings anyone in the university could attend to speak their mind.

I attended one. The President of the university, Lee Bolinger, ran the event. I had strong feelings about risking militarizing the campus and entered expecting to feel critical of the school and to leave outraged.

Instead, I left impressed with Bollinger.

I could only conceive then of leadership in the form of command and control so I expected he would try to “lead” participants to an intended outcome.

Instead, he acted mostly to moderate. More than anything else, I remember him making sure everyone who wanted to speak had their chance without impinging on others’ chances. He described a process that seemed fair and stuck to it. As a result, I had my say and I got to see everyone else have theirs. I understood the process and had little to object to. For that matter, beyond speaking, I got to hear a variety of views beside mine.

He stayed principled on the process and open to what people said. He didn’t pick a side on the issue. He picked a side on the process, which helped everyone.

Leadership doesn’t have to call attention to itself to be effective. Often being effective means allowing and helping others do what they want and managing potential conflict. When an issue risks dividing a community, effective leadership strengthens it, in this case by allowing people to express themselves.

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