Maintenance & Operations

Leadership Position?

Although I’ve been retired for almost 10 years, after completing a 32-year career as the director of Facilities for a medium-sized (30 schools, total of 45 permanent buildings and many mobile classrooms) school district, I am still puzzled by the term “leadership position.” It is my belief that leadership is a function, and not a position. It is impossible to declare someone a leader simply by placing him or her in a position that requires leadership skills. To be an effective leader, one must possess the vision and the skills required to communicate the needed directives.

A clear plan, sufficient resources and a qualified group of participants are necessary to allow any leader to carry out the desired course.

Many times, it is assumed that the person in charge is a leader. This is not necessarily true. How often have you discovered that the one charged with the responsibility of carrying out a task was dependent on others to suggest an action plan?

Don’t misunderstand my point; it is always desirable for all persons assigned a particular task to actively take part in its implementation.

It is important to recognize that other members of the team may have a better idea. A true leader will recognize this. But a “leader” must issue direction, not take it from the staff.

I realize that to some that this is a matter of semantics, but I believe we need to start being honest about the roles some play in facility management and how we define them. Is someone a leader because he or she is a department head? Perhaps, but perhaps not; the actions are the defying factors, not the title.

Most of us can understand that we should be guided by and responsible to those in positions higher than ours. But many times we experience disappointment.

We sometimes question that person’s knowledge, instruction or ability. We often believe that he or she is out of touch or lacks motivation. It’s very easy to sit back and criticize those who manage us.

However, one must be fair. If we recognize our supervisors as true leaders, we will find it easier to get on board and take and follow direction.

If the example set by those expected to be leaders is one of melancholy or indifference, they can expect others to follow suit. It is the person that plans out, digs in, issues directives and follows up that can be termed a leader. They are leaders because of their actions and results, not simply titles or positions.

Leaders are at every level of any organization, from the director to the laborer. Given this, why do many still automatically consider the person at the top to be the sole leader?

Granted, the person in charge has final authority and responsibility for project success, but that alone does not make him or her a leader.

I guess my point is, that over the years I have encountered far too many people that claimed to be leaders solely because of their title. I have met more true leaders at the lower end of the payscale than in many boardrooms. I can recall one particular instance when, while touring a new facility with my superintendent, director of Finance and several board members, I watched as they all walked past a piece of trash on the floor. The head custodian for the building stopped me as I bent to pick it up and said, “that’s my job.”

Clearly it should be everyone’s job to pick it up, but only the custodian showed any leadership skills that day.

As stated at the outset, I am retired, but fervently believe that no matter where you are on the organizational chart you can be a leader. It is also true that no matter how high you are on the chart, you are not necessarily a leader.

The cold, hard reality is that position, status, salary, title or public perception does not make anyone a leader. Leaders are dedicated, forward-thinking individuals who are goal-oriented and open-minded. Leaders are everywhere, at every level, and most don’t seek recognition — they just lead.

Maybe I’m just an old-school kind of guy, but I believe deep in my heart that leadership is a function not a position, and should be recognized as such.

This article originally appeared in the School Planning & Management June 2013 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Jim Vicar, is the executive director of SCSPMA (the South Carolina School Plant Management Association.)