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Recognizing leadership: Can you spot the vision?

Can you spot it at work? What about at home? Can you see it in yourself?

Leadership is one of those words that, when one says it, people pretty much know what it means. But there’s a multitude of ways to define it: books and articles are cluttered with countless lists of characteristics, competencies, and activities that are said to define leadership.

I’ve seen numerous lists of the top ten characteristics of leadership and, you guessed it, they were all different. Of course, it’s possible that people can have different perspectives on which characteristics are most important and which ones form the core of leadership. A more interesting thing I’ve observed over the years is that people who have gone through leadership training in an agency or academic institution frequently emerge asking a key question: “What does leadership look like?”

A simple exercise you could do several times a day is recognizing leadership when you see it. Pick a common characteristic of leadership and keep an eye out for it. For example, leadership expert John Maxwell said the indispensable characteristic of leadership is vision. Can you spot it at work? What about at home? Can you see it in yourself?

Over the past six months, I’ve had the privilege to be an instructor in the inaugural class of SHIELD (Sheriff’s Institute for Ethical Leadership Development) at Travis County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) in Austin, Texas. In a nutshell, SHIELD is a six-module program for mid-management law enforcement and corrections professionals at TCSO. Part of the goal of the program is to identify future leaders to guide the organization in years to come. (I’ll write about SHIELD in greater detail in a future issue.)

While the program as a whole was interesting, informative, and eye-opening for many of the participants, for me the vision that was demonstrated throughout the program was most important.

Of course, in creating such a program, the leadership of TCSO illustrates vision. More than that, though, it was both the personal and professional leadership of the participants that was most striking. They had to get out of their regular routine, begin to look at the bigger picture, and start creating a vision of their own.

One of the most powerful parts of the program was the Capstone Project that each participant had to complete, choosing a topic of their interest and expertise and designing a proposal to implement change or improvement in the department.

Once the research for the proposals was complete, the participants had to present their vision to the command staff and undergo the scrutiny typical of such an exercise. For most of the participants, this would be one of the rare occasions to do public speaking on the job. On top of that, it was before the leadership of the department. Let’s just say that few, like you and me, relished the idea of public speaking, especially in front of their bosses.

But they did it, and they did it well. They proposed their vision, argued their cases, and were open to the questions and suggestions of the leadership.

I’ve seen a lot of leadership in the SHIELD program these past six months, and especially during the presentation of the Capstone Projects. Take a look around your organization, whether it’s work, home, social organizations, and spiritual institutions. Where are you seeing leadership?

Dr. Joe Serio is a popular and sought-after criminal justice speaker and trainer. He is currently delivering a series of classes on time management, emotional intelligence, leadership, customer service, and other topics at the Harris County (Houston) Sheriff’s Office Training Academy. Dr. Serio is a featured speaker at SHIELD, Sheriff Institute for Ethical Leadership Development, at the Travis County (Austin) Sheriff’s Office Training Academy. He also speaks at adult and juvenile probation departments as well as police departments.