Leadership is relationship.  Is it ‘I’ or ‘we’?  Am I ‘hero’ or ‘host’?

Communal.  Leadership is a communal responsibility; it is held in trust.  Everyone in the community practices leadership in one sense or another; their role depends on many factors, such as the level of shared trust, personal strengths and skills (perceived/actual), and the willingness/acceptance of the responsibilities.  It may be formal or informal, long or short-term, temporary, situational or more permanent, and may be based on such factors as social connections, specialized knowledge, access to resources, and personal likability and admiration.  Persons appointed to positions of leadership are stewards of that trust and responsibility.

Relationship.  Leadership is relationship.  It is not about having all the answers, driving change or imposing a personal agenda.  Rather, the work of the leader is to invite the community together, set the agenda, encourage communication, reflect back the intelligence of the group and remind the group what they have decided.  Since the leader is an integral part of this community and does not stand outside the process, this is not the abdication of leadership but in fact the hard work, the rolling up of the sleeves, of leadership.

Practiced.  In their daily work, leaders model practices desired throughout the organization.  They listen and ask good questions.  They are open to learning and develop an attentiveness for the future.  They help to shape conversations we need to help us see the future and to plan for and cope with the change that is required.  With a sense of urgency, leaders focus on future performance, simplify decision-making processes, and use crises as they arise as catalysts for creating something new.  They are generous with praise for others, recognition of accomplishments and find time to celebrate achievements, sharing stories of the past and future, and promoting opportunities for everyone to connect with one another.

Focused.  Leaders focus specifically on meaning, significance, community, direction and excitement.  Meaning helps us to see that the work of our organization is bigger than us.  Significance gives us a sense that our personal efforts really matter.  Community means that we belong and feel connected to colleagues, work groups, and the larger organization.  Direction is knowing that we are moving forward together, in what general direction and why.   Excitement, not a Disney experience, is the spark of enthusiasm and wellbeing we feel when doing our best.  In the words of Tom Peters, the future shape of leadership is to “create places where people can do the best work of their lives.”


David S Penner, PhD.  Loma Linda University