PKAL Volume IV: What Works, What Matters, What Lasts

What Is Leadership? What Does It Mean to Me?

August 8, 2007

What is leadership? What does leadership mean to me, given my responsibilities for the undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics learning environment? What are my personal capacities as a leader?

In 1997, members of the PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century (F21) were invited to respond to the question:

What is the most critical challenge or opportunity that faculty leaders in undergraduate science and mathematics will be facing in the coming century?

We continue the summer series of materials from the PKAL archives with attention to PKAL F21 statements presenting some responses to that question. Even a cursory review of earlier thoughts from the F21 community suggests the intractableness of some of the challenges facing academic leaders, while at the same time signaling the several points at which progress is being made.

Understanding the power of questions, on the ramifications of reflecting on and responding to essential questions is an important dimension of leadership.

    How can we know if we do not ask? Why should we ask if we are certain we know? All answers come of the question. If we pay attention to our questions, we increase the power of mindful thinking.
    – Ellen J. Langer, The Power of Mindful Learning. Addison-Wesley. 1997.

Questioning exercises have always been at the core of PKAL activities, recognizing the value of private as well as public time to clarify and reshape one's personal perspectives on all dimensions of leadership in undergraduate STEM. No matter the career stage or sphere of responsibility, STEM leaders involved with PKAL are asked to consider:

    What is leadership? What does leadership mean to me, given my responsibilities for the undergraduate STEM learning environment? What are my personal capacities as a leader?

This is one of the four driving questions shaping the 2007 PKAL F21 National Assembly. Participants will have opportunities to explore personal perspectives on leadership–their own, those of their F21 peers, and those of others recognized as making a difference within and for the undergraduate STEM community.

    It's up to you to carve out your place in the work world and know when to change course [and] to keep yourself engaged and productive during a work life that may span some 50 years. To do all of these things well, you'll need to cultivate a deep understanding of yourself, [asking]: what are your most valuable strengths and dangerous weaknesses? Equally important, how do you learn with and work with others? What are your most deeply held values? And in what type of work environment can you make the greatest contribution?
    – Peter F. Drucker, "Managing Oneself." Best of the Harvard Business Review. 1999.

The lives of faculty responsible for undergraduate STEM embody their answer to Drucker's last question. As Leadership Reconsidered argues, The academic profession is a profession more of choice than of chance...