Career Strategies for Librarians
What Leadership Is NOT
by Chrissie Anderson Peters

Have you ever noticed how many articles and books cover what a leader is, how to be an effective leader,
etc.? However, if people do not understand the essence of leadership, how can we expect them to grasp
how it works? An article in Rice University’s Sallyport cites Brent Smith, assistant professor of
management and psychology in the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management saying, perhaps it
is easier – and a more feasible approach – to explain what leadership is not.  “Leadership is most
definitely not a position… Leadership is not genetic… Leadership is not all about charisma.” Why haven’
t more people stopped to remind us of what a leader is NOT? It takes a certain amount of common
sense and energy and feasible ideas and sustained stamina – and a smattering of personality doesn’t
typically hurt – but it isn’t rocket science!  

A group called weLEAD believes that there is a distinct difference between “leadership” and
“management.”  In the online article entitled “What Leadership Is Not,” the group contends,

"During the last 50 years we have experienced an explosion of books and consultants focused on
promoting management and leadership. Yet the fact remains that much confusion exists today, even
about the very definition of the word leadership! Even in our modern society we have yet to distinguish
between the positive role of those individuals who beneficially change our times and organizations to
attain remarkable achievement, and the highly ambitious who simply claw their way to the top of their
heap! We have a terrible cultural tendency of calling them both leaders!”

The article juxtaposes figures like Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler,
and Saddam Hussein, who are frequently referred to as “leaders.” The fact that others feel that there is a
need to explain what leadership is NOT reinforces the purpose in writing this article: the idea that “What
a Leader Is NOT” is something that organizations and associations need to emphasize more often;
through learning what a leader is not, we can help each other more fully develop into the leaders our
organizations need.

Power Plays and Popularity
Leadership should also not be confused with power or authority. While these two qualities are frequently
by-products of leadership, they should never be the motivation behind leadership. In “Leadership Is
Serious Business,” Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid, the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
at the Universiti Tun Abdul Razak, explains, “Leadership…is not about the pursuit of near absolute
power or the power games played in [certain] institutions. In ideal contexts, leadership is not about the
games people play and it is not about near absolute powers of individuals or groups.”  

During my senior year of college, I was elected as president of our sorority. I had never really been an
officer of anything before college, and to be chosen as president of the sorority was one of the most
exciting events of my life. I was so intrigued and engrossed in what I could “do” as president, things that I
now had the “power” to change, that it did not occur to me until a few weeks after our elections that there
were also a number of things that I could not do. First of all, the group was intensely small – we had only
five members going into my senior year. Secondly, the group dynamics between those five people were
spread as far and wide as you could imagine –a religion major, one math major, one biology major, and
two English majors – all with very different views and opinions of what the sorority needed to do to
increase membership and create growth. I could not simply change things as I dreamily anticipated – I
had four other people to cooperate with, to consider the opinions and wishes of, and ultimately to
answer to. As president, I quickly learned that I actually had the least “power” in the group. My “job” was
to create unity, sustain individuality, inspire dedication, and recruit new members, while putting my own
personal desires last. I was the one charged with setting an example – within the sorority and beyond it
for those who might possibly become members in the future. Although that experience is eleven years
behind me now, I can still recall with horrific vividness learning to cope and survive; I also recall many
phone calls to those who had led the group before me, begging them for advice and guidance. This first
real experience with leadership proved to have nothing at all to do with power and authority, but rather
with humility and servitude, lessons that I strive daily to remember and put into practice.

Leadership also should not be considered strictly a popularity contest – even though a certain number of
people probably like something about you if they choose to elect you. Peter Drucker, a writer, teacher,
and leadership consultant, says, “Leadership is not popularity. It is getting results.” Popularity can be
marginal and fleeting, much like a fad or a trend. Having people like you and your ideas is no guarantee
that you are cut out for leadership; leadership is not for everyone. Think of what a messed-up place the
world would be if all we had was leaders and no followers. Leaders cannot possibly do everything on
their own; thus the need for leaders-in-training and happy-to-be-helping helpers. Furthermore, think of
how ineffective leaders are if they do not know how to follow the people they lead! Leadership isn’t a one-
way street.

Personal Perspectives
I am currently in the last phase of an elected term as ALA’s New Members Round Table’s (NMRT)
Secretary, and also in the last phase of a two-year term as President of our regional library association,
Boone Tree. To have the opportunity to serve one’s chosen profession in various organizations is an
honor, privilege, and not something to be taken lightly. Having said that, I will be the first (and probably
not the last) to admit that I have not been the most stellar officer that any of these organizations has ever
seen. Leaders are not perfect, nor should they think they are greater than the sum of the efforts exerted
by themselves and the memberships they represent. As JC Rost says in an article in the November
1993 issue of The Journal of Leadership Studies, “[L]eadership is not the work of a single person, rather
it can be explained and defined as a ‘collaborative endeavor’ among group members. Therefore, the
essence of leadership is not the leader, but the relationship.” In the appointments mentioned above,
certain accomplishments have been made; certain achievements have been reached; certain goals
have seen fruition. Some things did not go as smoothly or as quickly as I had hoped, but that does not
mean that progress was not made within the scope of what the organization’s goals were. What it
means is that obstacles arose, plans were re-designed, and challenges were faced in the most positive
ways possible.  

An adaptation of the Boy Scouts of America’s 1972 publication Patrol and Troop Leadership states,  
“Leadership is not a science. So being a leader is an adventure because you can never be sure whether
you will reach your goal – at least this time. The touchdown drive may end in a fumble… Or the city’s
citizens may not be convinced that the mayor’s policies are right. So these leaders have to try again,
using other methods.” Another section of this document suggests, “Leadership is not magic that comes
out of a leader’s head. It's skill [in that] the leader learns how to get the job done and still keep the group
together.” A leader is not divisive in terms of pitting other members – including other leaders –against
each other over the business of the organization. His/her first priority is not to stride ahead at whatever
cost to the group, but to promote the organization as a unified body. Doing so is rarely simple, but is
necessary for continued growth and to ensure recruitment and training efforts for new members and
future leaders.

More of What Leadership Is NOT
Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi maintained, “Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are
made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve… any
goal.” Pay close attention to the last sentence. And that’s the price who will have to pay? WE. Leadership
is not a one-person show of competence or incompetence, glory or gaud. Leadership must be a team
effort in order to be successful. Achieving goals together and working hard together are some of the
most incredible feelings and moments that leaders can ever hope to experience.  

In an August 2002 issue of Community Economics Newsletter, Spencer J. Campbell offers some
thoughts on leaders, and shares several “reflections” about leadership, including, “The measurement of
leadership is not about the quantity of knowledge in your head, but the commitment to serve in your
heart.” Leadership is not about being the smartest, the best, or the most popular, but about how much
someone is willing to give of himself/herself. It is about commitment and dedication to a cause – and it
is about believing in that cause to the extent that he/she is willing to sacrifice, humble himself/herself,
and rise to the challenges ahead to help that cause succeed.  

I think back to my high school superlatives and think about all of the people who were given those
“honors.” I particularly remember two friends, who I will call Patrick and Bruce. Bruce was voted “Most
Likely to Succeed.” Patrick was constantly caught in Bruce’s shadow throughout high school. No one
took Patrick very seriously because, compared to Bruce’s intellect and political prowess, Patrick just didn’
t measure up. I attended college with both of them and witnessed an amazing transformation. In college,
Patrick got involved with several different groups; Bruce stuck mainly to political party affiliations and was
quickly overshadowed by Patrick, whose work as a committed and dedicated member helped him to
emerge as a well-liked and respected leader on campus. Patrick is living proof that leaders are not
always recognized as leaders until they seek out opportunities to develop themselves in that manner
and living proof that high school glory is often fleeting and that our pasts do not have to dictate our

Sheila Murray Bethel, a renowned leadership speaker, contends, “Leadership is not something that you
learn once and for all. It is an ever-evolving pattern of skills, talents, and ideas that grow and change as
you do.” The “leader” I was in my sorority learned countless invaluable lessons about life and dealing
with dynamic personalities/situations. That leader has continued to evolve and develop in the past
eleven years. The leader that I have become will likely evolve and change in the next eleven years in
ways that I have not imagined at this point in my life. Leadership is not stagnant; it must be approached
and experienced with a flexible, dynamic attitude. If leaders do not adapt to change or are closed to the
possibilities and realities that changes render on organizations of any type, then they cannot remain
leaders. Leaders may not be “born,” but they can certainly “die” if they refuse to grow.  

Some Leadership Web Sites

Works Cited

Bajunid, Ibrahim Ahmad. “Leadership Is Serious Business.” New Straits Times Press (Malaysia) Berhad
16 Dec. 2001. 21 Feb. 2004 <>

Campbell, Spencer J. “Leadership.” Community Economics Newsletter 310 August 2002. <http://www.>

“Learning About Leadership.” Adapted from Patrol and Troop Leadership. North Brunswick, NJ: Boy
Scouts of America, 1972. 21 Feb. 2004 <>  

Medina, David, D. “Leading the Way.” Sallyport: The Magazine of Rice University. 59.3 Spring 2003: 1. 21
Feb. 2004 <>

Rost, J.C. “Leadership Development in the New Millennium.” The Journal of Leadership Studies 1.1
(November 1993): 91-110.  

Thomas, Greg. “What Leadership Is Not.” Leadership Tip of the Month Feb. 2001. 21 Feb. 2004 <http:

About the Author:

Chrissie Anderson Peters is a Fall 2002 graduate of the School of Information Sciences at the University
of Tennessee, a program that she participated in as a distance education student. A member of the
Tennessee Library Association, the Virginia Library Association, ALSC, NMRT, and YALSA, she is a
Librarian for Northeast State Community College in Blountville, TN. Her passions include writing, music,
reading, traveling, her "children" (the feline kind -- Mel, Reid, Xander, and Willow), and spending as much
time as possible with her husband Russell, who makes her life a joy each day.

Article published March 2004

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