You have heard of buzz words, hot language that everyone seems to be using lately.  Certain terms emerge to become fashionable.  Soon, people get sick of the buzz words and move on to new ones.  It is a never ending game.

For a long time, every group and organization thought they had to have a vision.  So they met in breakout groups and engaged in visioning.  They learned the difference between visions and missions and then tried writing a vision statement to guide them into the future.  It was the vision thing.

In light of Katrina and her sisters, now the buzz word is leadership.  We lacked leadership at the local, state, and national level.  Casting our gaze toward 2008, we wonder which potential candidate has that elusive quality.  Rudy Giuliani even wrote a book about leadership, and there is a book out there on the leadership secrets of Colin Powell.

The term “leadership” has been building in popularity for a couple of decades.  Academic programs that used to teach management and business administration now promote themselves as leadership studies.  There are college degrees in leadership.  Books on leadership have crowded aside titles with less sex appeal.

Surrounding the buzz words are numerous organizations, associations, consulting firms, and publications.  Nearly every Chamber of Commerce sponsors some kind of leadership training.  It can be hard to tell exactly how they all fit together.

There is an Indiana Leadership Association, an International Leadership Association, an Association of Leadership Educators, a Network of Leadership Scholars, a Community Leadership Association, a North Carolina Science Leadership Association, a California Women's Leadership Association, and, well, you get the picture.

You can now subscribe to The Leadership Quarterly, the Leadership and Organizational Development Journal, a journal on Non-Profit Management and Leadership, a Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, the Journal of Leadership Education, the Leadership Review, and an E-Journal Of Ethical Leadership.

Apparently, folks want something called leadership, or at least they want it done better.  They think that leadership makes a difference.  Unfortunately, folks often think that some other person is the leader who will descend from on high and rescue them, much as the helicopters rescued victims of the hurricane.  Ordinary people are not so much interested in a leader as in a savior.

When you are asked to imagine a leader, what springs to mind?  A healthy male, graying at the temples perhaps, energetic and keenly intelligent, with just enough personality to be attractive.  There is a stereotype.  Given enough time, we would describe the perfect human, because we also expect our leader to be thrifty, witty, and clean.

One of the most difficult lessons in any first semester course on leadership is convincing students that leadership is not a possession or character trait that we are going to help them develop.  Leadership is something that happens among ordinary people all of the time, on the playground and in the shop, and it always takes two to tango.  It cannot happen without followers.

At the heart of any definition of leadership, when you strip away the myths and the hype, you will find the idea that leadership is about social change, the way that people transform their lives together.  Individuals do make a difference, every day, in lots of little ways.  And we all want to do this better, just as we want everyone around us to do this better.  Leadership is part of our social capital, our community’s storehouse.  When the buzz dies down, we will still need it – whatever we call it then.

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