Saturday, August 8, 2009

Leadership vs. Success

Writing for schools, colleges and universities means that the words “leadership” and “success” come up a lot. I may not always use those words, but conveying that schools deliver an education that develops leaders and successful people is behind most school stories. In fact, I think a lot of people unconsciously substitute the word “successful” for “leadership.”

It’s not a leap to think that if you’re successful you’re probably a leader of some kind – a leader in your field, a leader in your community, a service leader. But while leaders may be successful, there are lots of successful people who are not leaders. A Seth Godin passage on "discomfort" from Tribes made this clear to me. He says, “Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead.”

When I read this, I immediately thought of Brad Rourke. Yes, he happens to be my husband, but this post isn’t about patting him on the back. He just happens to be a great example of Godin’s point that I’ve seen up close and personal. Three years ago, Brad started a city blog called Rockville Central. The success part is that the blog has quickly become the second most read local blog in the state. Brad’s won awards for his work. RC has been featured in conferences and articles. In short, the blog and Brad have become influential in our town, especially in local politics.

The leadership part however is that on a regular basis I’ve watched Brad struggle with polarizing community debates, miffed and even angry friends, and personal attacks on his character. I see him weigh the pros and cons of how to keep RC politically neutral and how to keep the conversation open but civil. In short I’ve watched him repeatedly step up despite daily discomfort.

Next time I write about leadership for a school, I know I will think about its meaning differently. I will also wonder if most parents really want their kids to go through the discomfort of being leaders or do we just want them to be successful?

Photo by flikr user aloshbennett


Rick said...

Andrea, a very insightful and thought provoking post. I think most parents want their kids to be successful (I hope that includes becoming positive, kind, loving, etc.). I don't think most people know the cost of leadership.

Congrats to Brad on the success and the blog. Although my situation was different, I empathize with the price of leadership he has had to pay. One needs thick skin and a good sense of humor and perspective to keep facing the responsibility of leadership in city/state politics and in higher education where some people are just never happy.

Andrea Jarrell said...

Rick - Thanks for your comment. So right on all counts. I'm continually fascinated by what parents want in terms of schooling. Most parents say they want their kids to be happy. (Schools try to get them to see that sometimes "happy" isn't the best thing.) For parents at some of the schools I work with "happy" seems to mean -- happy while being successful and often "success" again seems to be "head of the class" or leadership in some area. Like I said, all very interesting.
And thanks for the kudos to Brad!