Thursday, November 17, 2011
What is an "emerging leader"?
The ALA Emerging Leaders program has recently announce the class of 2012. I am happy to be a part of the upcoming cohort. The program meets officially twice, once at ALA Midwinter and again at ALA Annual (Dallas and Anaheim respectively). We'll be placed into groups to work on a variety of projects, gain some insight to the structure of ALA and hopefully emerge with some leadership skills.
The phrase "emerging leader" and the topic of leadership in general has been on my mind. Leadership programs are something I have grown up with. My earliest memories from elementary school revolved around being placed in an advanced program to work on projects focused on building our leadership skills. I did not think of them that way of course, I was just happy to be learning how to program Lego robots and imagine the inner workings of a space greenhouse. There were a lot of camps and clubs along the way to where I am now. But honestly after all the "training" I am not a magical charismatic leader of greatness. So, what is so important about the various leadership programs we see popping up all over the place now? The recent flux of them seems to be related to a crashing economy and a general feeling that we need better or more leaders.
Perhaps because there are less opportunities available now there is a higher demand for adaptable skills, which are frequently what leadership programs are striving to teach. Leadership is not just about amassing faithful followers; although the importance of social capital is a lesson frequently brought up. Leadership is also a frame of mind, a commitment to lifelong learning. Your enthusiasm can carry you far. Personally I was the most inspired working with leaders who reflected how much they loved what they were doing. And people who love what they are doing know there is always something new and exciting around the corner to learn.
Nurturing lifelong learning also plays double duty as an invitation to create diverse connections. Growing leaders are needed in all areas, whether it is women in STEM or minorities in academia. I recently watched a film, Miss Representation, which discusses how female portrayal in the media does little to empower girls and women today and in fact can go to great lengths to dismiss women in positions of power. Leadership programs can do more than cultivate necessary skills, they can strive to counteract these negative perspectives. These programs create a space where being curious, successful or smart is celebrated. And what emerges is someone who is motivated, maybe not necessarily to lead, but to do more, be more, and hopefully thrive.