What is the authors' definition of leadership or ideas about what they believe it to be? The authors believe that a leader, first of all, has followers. And that leaders are defined by their followers. The followers follow because they trust the leader, and the relationship between those who want to lead and those who are inspired enough to follow that leader must be constantly attended to, nurtured, and re-energized. There are five major leadership themes in the book. They are as follows:
Model the Way." I believe this is the most important of the five leadership definitions. Unless a leader presents a believable and inspirational role model, no one will follow. On page 14 the authors write, "open up your heart and let people know what you really think and believe." To do that, it will take actually "talking about your values." And if the so-called leader doesn't have any beliefs to stand up for and share with his followers, he or she will quickly be dismissed as an imposter. Speeches aren't enough, they write; "Deeds are far more important." Moreover, a leader has "high expectations" because that leads to "high performance" from their followers (323). High performance results from a sense of "self-confidence, courage, and volition to live up to their leader's expectations." For parks and recreation leaders, this means get out there and do the exercises, do the lawn mowing on the softball fields, show how to play the game at the highest level rather than telling others how it should be done.
Inspire a Shared Vision." This is really an offshoot of "Model the Way." Because leaders are persons with vision and imagination, because they are able to "gaze across the horizon of time, imagining the attractive opportunities that are in store..." when that "distant destination" is reached. True leaders tend to live their lives backwards, the book points out; they see "pictures in their minds' eye of what the results will look like even before they have started their project" (15). Persuasion is an important part of this aspect of their leadership definition. For parks and recreation leaders, this would mean imaginative summer recreational programs that create a buzz in the community; getting sponsors to pay for the costs of soccer or softball tournaments that have never been held before; an inspired shared vision of what's possible.
Challenge the Process." Part of this challenge is to "innovate and create" (186); to "seize the initiative" (117); "make something happen" (178); and moreover, to venture out into new ideas, be a groundbreaker. In parks and recreation, "little victories" could mean having more sign-ups than ever before; doing things a new way, challenging the old boring typical activities; for example, maybe having an "American Idol" styled competition for kids who write their own cool hip hop lyrics, or dance moves with couples similar to "Dancing with the Stars."
Enable Others to Act." This is where a leader makes it possible for others to do good work, by strengthening everyone's "capacity to deliver on the promises they make." "Be open to influence" (247); "create a climate of trust"; and for parks and recreation people, it is always important to "listen, listen, listen" (249) to what kids are saying before planning new events.
Encourage the Heart." A leader has "high expectations" because that leads to "high performance" from their followers (323). High performance results from a sense of "self-confidence, courage, and volition to live up to their leader's expectations." Feedback about what progress people are making is very important (319), and this goes for parks and recreation leaders especially. Every tiny bit of achievement or success that one can detect in a young person at a recreational-related program (especially at-risk kids) needs to be brought out in positive feedback. "Nice job Jimmy," and a pat on the back is a nice gesture for the kid who is not very athletic but made a catch of a pop fly in the infield. Then, take him aside and review with him what he did right, reinforce, and reach his heart in the process.