By Urusa Fahim, Transformative Leadership Program Faculty Member
The U.S. election is over and the new (and improved!) president is in office. Among the many things President Barack Obama brought to the surface for everyday Americans, the concept of leadership is rather high on the list. Not only has he changed the look of leadership and what it means to be a leader, but he has also challenged the traditional and outdated ideas about leadership. His story has inspired many and provided an opportunity to rethink leadership and the attributes a leader needs or success in the 21st century.
What exactly is leadership? Who is a leader? Who can be a leader? What qualifications does a leader need? What does a leader do? And, of course, what does a leader look like? These are some of the questions that are coming up in conversations with my students and result in rich discussions and learning.
There is no one single way to be a leader. Leaders come in many shapes and forms. Not all of us who strive for leadership positions can become presidents and prime ministers. Many of my personal role models are continuing to make a difference; Shirin Ebadi, Dr. Wangari Matthai and Dr. Mohammad Yunus are each Nobel laureates. However, one must not have received a noble prize to be accepted as a leader.
Case in point is Greg Mortenson, who started with a promise and did what he needed to do to keep his word. These examples are of individuals who started where they were in life and where they were geographically. They embodied leadership in their actions and practices. These leaders did not stand in line waiting for someone to tell them they were leaders. Instead, they took action and mobilized their community to join them in taking action.
There are others, anonymous leaders, who are taking action every day to make a positive difference in their communities and empowering people. They are anonymous because their work has not been acknowledged or given media coverage.
In the Transformative Leadership Program, we believe in developing leaders from inside out. We ask our students what kind of leader they want to be; we help them recognize their leadership strengths and areas where they need to develop in order to be effective. We encourage them to develop leadership capacities within themselves, so that they remain leaders whether they are leading a corporation, a non-profit, or starting their own business. We ask our students to begin taking action where they are in their life and work and—because we are an online program—where they are geographically as well.