Part 1 of Making Sense of Leadership Moments: Intro to Barbaric Yawps
When I teach leadership to my undergraduate students, they are very quick to apply a theory of leadership in vague terms. When I show Robin Williams as the poetry teacher in Dead Poet’s Society, my students spew academic terms: he’s being transformational by using inspirational motivation or individualized consideration. But these are terms that remain academic and somewhat meaningless to my students until we pick apart the small, micro-moments of leading.
Moment by moment, we relive Ethan Hawk yawping, first as an uncomfortable mouse, then slightly louder yet just as uncomfortable, until Robin Williams pushes him to yawp like a true barbarian. Where Robin Williams stands, the body language he uses, the words that show empathy, yet challenge Ethan Hawk. These details we try to become more aware of, to see the micro-moments, so we can understand how the leader/follower interaction occurs. We want to get at the core of moments that truly influence, that bring about change in attitudes or behavior.
Why do I ask my students to seemingly split hairs when it comes to understanding what is happening in each moment? Well, it helps to think about the choices leaders make about how to behave, out of the many ways they can influence. Leading is nothing more than standing in certain spots, using certain words, conveying certain emotions, in the attempt to influence someone or some outcome. In academic terms, we call these many, micro-behaviors acts of claiming leadership. Such acts are effective when others grant us the leadership, or, they simply follow.
So, when do leaders decide to lead? How do they assess their effectiveness in leading? And, the ultimate question, how do these moments accumulate to build a competent leader in many situations? To answer these questions, we look at the process people use for making sense of leading and incorporating that sense into future claims for leadership. In very basic terms, the process involves seeing, understanding, being, and doing. It probably comes as no surprise that we also have more academic labels for these, but the basic gist is the same. In a series of blog posts, we will break down each of these, so check these out, keep practicing your barbaric yawps, and let’s turn each small act of leading into a profound moment of influencing others.