Monday, November 16, 2009

What the world needs now is transformational leadership. Or maybe strategic. Wait, no: tactical.

I have been thinking about leadership lately, a word I have come near to loathing. Yet it transfixes me. What is it? Do you have it simply by saying so? Googling around recently, I found a title for a guest lecture given at a well-known graduate program for higher education administrators, entitled "Transformational Leadership at X College." I would like to see the PowerPoint for that presentation, let me tell you. Oh the indicators! the metrics! the Venn diagrams! I'm just guessing.

We visited friends this weekend, one of whom is the president of a small and promising educational startup company. He says that he provides strategic leadership--he's "the tip of the spear," he says--and frankly, I believe it. Putting things into actual action--"that's tactical," he says. "I have people for that."

This leads me to ask you, the people, why can I not be the tip of the spear? and why do I not have people? I mean, aside from you all. Anyway: I love this version of leadership so much that I have been thinking about more modifiers--many, many more--for the word leadership:
wonderful, bellyful of, salicylic, vegetable, mineral, adorable, supine, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, sockful of, drawerful, pocketful, awful, pitiful, helpful, agglutinable, alienable, biodegradable, circumnavigable, contradictable, curable, decasyllabic, dismountable, aimless armless artless ageless boneless bootless barkless colorless careless cordless cashless deathless eyeless friendless flawless flightless godless heartless harmless jobless joyless legless lawless lifeless loveless luckless mirthless mindless motherless painless
Or, to put it another way:

Please tell me what kind of leadership you think the world needs now: volitional? uncanny? astigmatic? parabolic? ontological? ludic? cakelike?

TAGS: modifiers, suffixes, words that rhyme with "mead or whip"


  1. Kind and visible. From a profile of a college president in today's Chronicle of Higher Ed.

    "Mr. Smith is highly visible—they see him everywhere. The president's desk is now merely a place to stack papers—he never sits there."

    And President Smith himself says:
    "It's getting to know people, being interested in them. … Life is built on genuine relationships, where trust and integrity are without question. When that is there, there are no limits."

    He's currently taking no salary as he helps the small liberal arts college Davis and Elkins revive itself.

    Here's the link.

  2. Folks-singery.

  3. transmorgify leadership, I think you'll find. Is what you REALLY need.

  4. I'm thinking the whole point of leadership is that it *precedes* which would preclude anteceding adjectives entirely. So you would be left with only subsequent adjectival (usually prepositional) phrases: i.e. "of the noodle," "with the noodle," "from the noodle,"

    (unless of course we adopt the French model and have leadership fantastique, leadership manque, leadership je ne sais quoi?)

  5. cakelike. Souplike, as well.

  6. Great post. I'd be up for some ludic leadership. I'm tired of strategic and while I love MB's quote from the CHE, "kind and visible," getting behind such leadership skills is waaaayyyy to warm and fuzzy for my cynical self.



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