“Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations” honors the word “leadership” with more than 10 pages — without any two of the quoted sages agreeing on a definition. Yet while its essence remains elusive, we do know that leadership reaches far beyond domination. It involves inspiring people of free will — something much more difficult and rewarding than subjugating them to authority.
Rank and high position are really handy tools for achieving obedience. But they are irrelevant to being a leader and getting the most out of your crew. The Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce looks at the right way to inspire others to follow when it presents “Leading Up: Influencing Without Authority,” on Tuesday, May 9, at 8 a.m. at the Westin Princeton Forrestal Village. Cost: $50. Visit www.princetonchamber.org.
Nino Scarpati, sociology professor and director of Civic Leadership Development at the College of New Jersey, moderates. Other panelists include Assemblyman Bill Baroni and Tom Sullivan, CEO of Princeton Partners.
If you had told professor Scarpati when he was a young man growing up in Cliffside Park that he would end up teaching social work, he never would have believed it. He attended Rutgers University with an eye toward law or journalism, and graduated in l981 with a double major in communications and fine arts. But something happened during the spring of his senior year. “One particular professor nudged me toward taking time for some self reflection,” he recalls, “and what I realized was that I wanted to make my contribution by inspiring others to lead from the outset.”
Scarpati stayed on at Rutgers, earning a master’s in social work and taking charge of the University’s Student Life Program. From there he moved into the dorms as a counselor at the University of Delaware and revamped that school’s residential life system. Ten years ago, when he was teaching at the College of New Jersey, Scarpati initiated the school’s Civic Leadership Development Program. Through the program, students, by working in non-profits, become aware of society’s problems and are inspired to lead their communities toward solutions.
Leadership, like love, defies regimented instruction. “There are no seven magical steps to leadership,” says Scarpati, “but there are a set of skills and values that may just urge you a little closer to the leadership path.”
A little reflection. Buddha and General George Patton had virtually no similar qualities that would inspire followers. But they did share a passion for self reflection and situational reflection. “It is so easy for us to get caught up in the whole forward vision thing,” says Scarpati, “that we often forget to not only think ahead, but also to analyze the present.”
Both the great religious leader and the amazingly successful general had studied history exhaustively and paid close attention to their people’s current situation.
We know that Patton, like Lincoln, actually listed his leadership talents. To marshal one’s talents, one must first reflect and realize them.
Clarity. People cannot be inspired toward a direction that is counter to self-interest or that is vague. If you would get individuals to walk a certain road, make sure the road is clear, and if not easy, at least leading to a desirable reward.
Learning. In the late l960s a starving China looked at the United States. They saw a country where agriculture was wildly successful. They also noted that the United States planted wheat. So China planted wheat, and millions died in the resulting famine. “It’s an easy trap to take lessons only from success,” says Scarpati. “Rather we should be seeking the lesson in the entire broad experience of our lives.”
Good leaders are often obsessed with learning something from each person or event
encountered. And somehow, the very energy of this obsession is transferred to those around them. Slowly the Chinese learned that the traditional barley was the best grain for their harsh western highlands, and that its yield could be enhanced by a long list of planting practices gathered from many other areas.
Lawyerspeak. “We all seek plain, simple unvarnished truth from passionately believing individuals,” says Scarpati. “And our leaders are not giving it to us.” The White House has become labeled as the “Spin Factory,” where each idea and action is carefully couched for maximum receptivity. Legislators at all levels, on both sides of the aisle, along with business leaders and managers, have all been scrambling to emulate this style and spin every event.
In the short term this may work, but in the long term individuals will take inspiration and direction from those with a true belief and a passion behind it that is unwavering and admirable. Of course, watch what you say. But first be clear on your vision and your values.
Control myth. The good leader is always in control. The more control, the better the leader. Bunk, says Scarpati. There are occasions when a leader can move people with his own laser-like focus on a certain problem. But this should only be a short-term function. “In the long term, people want access and involvement,” he says.
In developing its army, the Romans looked at the Greeks. Then they gave each soldier two more feet of sword-swinging freedom on either side. And instead of hollering orders from the rear, as the leaders of the Greek forces did, the Roman generals made sure each man was trained beforehand in the best possible techniques. The Romans let each soldier go his own way on the field, and they built an empire.
“All leadership is temporal and contextual,” says Scarpati. Every individual must play his cards as he finds them. Sometimes a touch of Patton is called for — sometimes a touch of Buddha. Your leadership methods can change as long as your personal values remain fixed and evident. People may not all flock to your banner, but if you hold firm to good values, you’ll at least get a fair hearing.