Which leader would you choose? (Part 2)
Analyzing Images of Leadership
In my last blog I introduced a photo elicitation project on leadership (http://outward-looking.com/which-leader-would-you-choose-part-1/) that invited sixty leaders to select a photo of a leader they admired or respected and explain why. They were also asked to list particular values or character traits that they saw in the person they selected.
Three distinct groups of twenty leaders were invited to participate.
In total, seventeen (17) responses or a 28 percent response was received from the original sample of sixty leaders, with responses shown by category below. Group A & B received the same selection of images to choose from with Group A receiving additional biographical information, and Group B none. Group C were invited to randomly select a leader without any outside influence. The following responses were received:
Six responses were received - Rick Warren (2 votes), Nelson Mandela (2 votes), Aung San Sun Kyi (1 vote), and Steve Jobs (1 vote)
Eight responses were received. Nelson Mandela (4 votes), Rick Warren (2 votes), Bono (1 vote), and Oprah Winfrey (1 vote)
Three responses were received: Loren Cunningham, General Charles A. Horner, and Lou Maegdlin
The original group of twelve photographs and the feedback from respondents can be obtained from the following link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/glennawilliams1963/sets. As Pink states, “images inspire conversations, conversation may invoke images”[i], so I would value any additional comments and insights you may have, including commenting on any other leader that you would have chosen as the one you admired the most and why. These can be made under each image in the photo set attached to the link.
Level of response
The 28 percent response from the total group of sixty respondents was lower than expected, although due to the senior leadership positions held by the participants, it was not unreasonable. Some indication of this was supported by a number of emails returned apologizing for their inability to complete the project.
Relevance of the leader they chose in relation to their own leadership context and the amount of information they received on the leadership images presented
Numerous respondents found the assignment challenging due to not having sufficient knowledge or an adequate understanding of the leaders represented in the photographs that were selected. This is especially true for Group B respondents who were provided name, position and photo only, but no additional biographical information.
While this is not unusual or unreasonable, it also confirms the difficulty respondents would have in identifying a leader from the list that was provided if they perceived only minimal relevance or none in terms of their own respective leadership context, geographic proximity, or limited media exposure.
Group C: No external constraints on respondents in choosing their preferred leader.
To help overcome some of the challenges associated with low project engagement, lack of leadership context, and geographic proximity, a third group of twenty leaders were asked to identify a leader they admired without any external pressure to confine their choice to one of the twelve photographs. Three responses were received and are summarized below:
One CEO of a global brand company chose his father as the leader he most admired. My father “had an amazing discipline and perseverance. His favorite saying, “don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t accomplish something. They can’t invent a job that I can’t do.” His positive attitude, dedication and ability to rise above the fray were inspirational. He worked for the same company for 41 years, starting as a painter in the train depots during the Great Depression in the United States, and worked his way up to executive management without a formal college degree. His character traits were discipline, perseverance, caring about others, positive attitude, dedication, amazing work ethic, highly ethical no matter the cost, deeply spiritual and unflappable.
A retired military Lieutenant General selected General Charles A. Horner as the leader he most admired, having served with him in peacetime and in conflict. He is a man who placed his people and their wellbeing across the entire spectrum of personal and professional characteristics as a very high priority and it was reflected in all that he did as a leader. He held to the highest standards of performance for himself and expected the same from others. He modeled what it is to exhibit courage and the strength of conviction in the face of personal and professional challenges that repeatedly resulted in getting the best from others. A man of deep spiritual convictions and yet was careful to allow others to believe and practice their faith.
A CEO of a global missions agency involved in international community development chose Loren Cunningham as the leader he most admired. He started and led one of the largest mission agencies in the world with 20,000 staff and bases all over the world. The values and character traits I saw in this man included: visionary, committed to prayer, storyteller, disciple, leadership-based empowerment, good character, and commitment.
In conclusion, what is interesting when comparing the responses between the three separate groups of leaders, is that no respondent in Group C identified any of the leaders they admired most that coincided with any of the photographs shown to Groups A and B. It is possible to consider therefore, that when respondents are not shown any images of leaders and are free to choose who they want, many will identify someone from their immediate leadership context who has had an impact on their development – directly or indirectly.
If you didn’t have to choose from any of the twelve leaders listed, and could choose anybody you wanted, what leader would you say you admired the most, and why?
All of the photos were sourced from www.shutterstock.com and other royalty-free avenues. For more information on the methodology and sampling strategy of the photos, please refer to my earlier blog – (http://outward-looking.com/which-leader-would-you-choose-part-1/).
[i] Sarah Pink, Doing Visual Ethnography (London: Sage Publications, 2007), 21.