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When you think of a leader, who comes to mind? Corporate executives? Managers of global organizations? Administrators or supervisors?

Leadership can, in fact, be a high-profile enterprise. Books, articles and training programs often feature such leaders when dealing with the topic of effective leadership. But more often, leadership is exercised under the radar screen by everyday leaders in schools, homes and communities.

Leadership should be defined in terms of tasks, rather than role or position, says André Martin of the Center for Creative Leadership. He contends that leaders are people who, in connection with others, accomplish the tasks of setting direction, building commitment and creating alignment.

Setting direction involves articulating mission, vision, values and purposes. Leaders may ask “Where are we going? What are we going to do? And why are we doing it?”

A second task of an effective leader is Building commitment. This involves the creation of mutual trust and accountability. A leader focuses on questions like “How can we stay together? How can we work better as a group?”

And a final task is Creating alignment. Effective leaders must find common ground. They want a shared understanding of the situation with well-coordinated actions.

With this framework in mind, CCL wanted to better understand leaders who are underrepresented. Over a six-month period, the organization conducted a study that explored definitions of leadership, key leadership skills, and current challenges. Thirty-one respondents participated in hour-long phone interviews, answering questions about their work, personal development strategies, and role models.

The interviewees represented five groups: educators; public sector employees; professional services providers; small business owners and atypical leaders. Interviewees included teachers, a car dealership owner, medical doctors, an accountant, a judge, a mayor, a not-for-profit director, Peace Corps volunteers and stay-at-home moms, among others.


Let’s explore some of the results:

When asked to define leadership, most participants agreed on the following:

First, leaders must have the ability to create a vision for positive change. They must also help focus resources on right solutions. Leaders have to inspire and motivate others. And lastly, they should provide opportunities for growth and learning.

In terms of key leadership skills, those related to interpersonal openness and building relationships were the most frequently mentioned.Commitment, demonstrated knowledge, organizational skills and ability to persuade/negotiate were also in the top five.

Respondents expected the same skills would be most important in the future, along with communication, delegation and setting direction. CCL’s Martin noted that leaders in the future will have to be even more cognizant of their direction and methods of getting colleagues involved.

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