When my sister Inbal and I, along with our late colleague Julie Greene and with John Kinyon, founded BayNVC in 2002, one of our top priorities was to create ongoing generations of leaders. This was the reason that we established the BayNVC Leadership Program. That this program is still running beautifully, and without us!, led by our former students, suggests to me that the intention succeeded. The same reasoning informs my choice, as the only remaining founder at BayNVC, to continue to focus on leadership development in so many of my activities.
Time and again, as I try to focus in this way, I discover how muddled the concept of leadership is, for so many people. Is leadership the same as power? Is leadership something given to us, or something we enter into, or something else? Is leadership only significant when it’s formal, or can we usefully refer to certain acts of people without any formal authority as exemplifying leadership? Is leadership a function, an attitude, or a perception?
Each of these questions folds within it some other questions. For example, disentangling leadership from power includes attending to the tricky issue of whether having leaders is necessary or desirable. Of course, what we believe that leaders do or how they do it is intimately interlinked with whether or not we would want there to be some form of leadership, and what we could imagine alternatives would be.
While all of this was swirling inside me, I decided to look up what others thought about this question. The dictionary definitions led me nowhere, defining the concept of leadership either by using a verb (lead), or by using another noun (leader). When I followed those leads (pun so very intended…), I still didn’t find anything that provided a description of what it means to lead or to be a leader.