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George Reed

George Reed

A retired U.S. Army Colonel, George Reed is an associate professor in the Department of Leadership Studies within the School of Leadership and Education Sciences at the University of San Diego.

Acts of optimism

Leadership begins with a choice backed by a belief that we can make a difference. It is an act of optimism, and it is to be celebrated because leadership can be risky and is sometimes downright dangerous. Leaders are not always appreciated, success is not guaranteed, and sometimes they are figuratively and even literally assassinated for their efforts. Many are willing to watch and criticize out of the limelight and from positions of relative safety, but I've always admired those who have the confidence and intestinal fortitude to lead despite the risk.

We should be a bit more specific about what we mean by leadership. Well-intentioned people can easily talk past each other on this subject. Perhaps we should question whether an action conceived and implemented by one person without involving others constitutes leadership. While often admirable and a catalyst, leadership is more than a solo act of instinct by an individual. Many who study leadership would agree that at its essence leadership involves acts of influence among a group of people that share mutual goals. I suspect that at some point in the events that took place on Northwest Flight 253, "I am going to act" became "Let's act together." That is where leadership emerges -- where "I" transitions to "we."

The question of whether the instinct to act in a crisis is taught or part of a person's makeup is closely related to the question of whether leadership is the result of genetic traits or something that can be learned. The balance of research on this question points to an answer of yes to both questions. Some may be inclined to lead because they possess certain well-documented traits and attributes that others recognize and respond to. Others can learn and develop technical competence and interpersonal skills that others will appreciate. Sometimes we find ourselves in a time and place not of our own choosing where our gift meets the world's need.

I'm not sure if Jasper Schuringa, the passenger who dived across four seats to restrain a terrorist, was engaging in an act of leadership or individual heroism. I suspect that the timely and effective actions of the cabin crew were more the result of training than instinct. Regardless of how we classify their actions together they averted a tragedy and for that we are all very grateful.

By George Reed

 |  December 29, 2009; 6:55 AM ET
Category:  Crisis leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please report offensive comments below.

Sometimes the "short straw" is drawn.

I for one don't like, the self reflective question that "people" placed in "leadership situations" have after the fact.

Did I do everything I could do?
If the answer is no, then clearly the task and/or situation, was the education.

If the answer was yes, a gift of a good nights sleep.

Posted by: sulu1 | December 29, 2009 12:16 PM
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