Be the Leader You Want to See In the World

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 “Leadership is the challenge to be something more than average.” Jim Rohn

As a young professional with an entrepreneurial spirit, I had a chance to experience different levels of leadership as John Maxwell defines: “leading up”, “leading across” and “leading down”.[1] Each level of the leadership has its own challenges and opportunities. Besides experiencing different levels of leadership, I believe my leadership style has been shaped by the local context in Turkey such as leadership culture, the mechanisms of interpersonal relationships, and power relations.

Unlike the United States, there is not a strong leadership culture in Turkey. Leadership classes are limited to business schools and the literature on leadership in Turkish is quite limited. In my definition, we have a “president” culture instead of leadership culture where authority comes solely from the title and the leader imposes himself/herself through intimidation and obligation. The prevalent leader type is autocratic as governance; accountability and evaluation mechanisms are not very well established in many organizations. The staff generally is not consulted during the appointment of the mid and high level executives; therefore the executives feel only responsible to their superiors and create a management policy accordingly while acting indifferent to the problems of those who are in a subordinate position.[2] Due to organizational culture and societal culture values, naturally the decision-making mechanism is not transparent and participatory. Additionally collectivism and power distance structure of the Turkish culture[3] is combined with old and male dominated societal structure that translates to the professional life as well.

While the autocratic and directive leadership is the common leadership pattern, there are many exceptions that stay out of the ‘leader’ and ‘led person’ dilemma. As such, feminist movement in Turkey disapproves any form of hierarchy and leadership.

In my professional life, I worked with different types of leaders from highly hierarchical to highly participative, paternalistic to “laissez-faire” type of leadership which where all the rights and power to make decisions is fully given to the employee. I even worked with managers at the same time that had completely different leadership styles. That was a major learning challenge for me as well I experienced “leading up”.

The cultural and social context as well as experiencing how different leadership styles worked in that context shaped how I feel about leadership and what kind of leader I want to become.

How I Tried to “Invent Myself”?

According to Warren Bennis, vision and innovation are the most important elements that leaders should have. I agree that even one might be a visionary and authentic or “something more than average”, yet there are certain things that will make you enlarge your perspective wider.  What I did in my life can be summarized as follows:

– Keep learning about myself and professional life

– Learn how to learn from others

– Challenging myself

– Network

– Initiate

I would like to highlight the participatory leadership as I believe every leader in the NGO sector should have that quality. The NGOs’ main mission is to create a bridge between the citizens and decision-makers, and promote democratic values. Therefore, any NGO leader should apply those principles to his/her work; otherwise the integrity and consistency of the leader would be questioned. My experience with working at a feminist organization and coordinating volunteers for the campaign made me realize how crucial it is to include essentially team members and all other stakeholders to the decision-making. Although the existing leadership culture shaped by collectivism, hierarchy and high power distance in Turkey, the area I work necessities to have a participatory approach.  In contrast, while volunteers expect to take part in decision-making to feel fulfilled, they are also ask the leader to make a decision on herself/himself and the team members avoid from the responsibility.

In conclusion, I have observed and learnt from many leaders and contexts in my professional life. Either leading up, down or across; my main objective is to become the leader I want to see in the world.

by Derya Kaya



[1] Maxwell, J.C. (2005). The 360 Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence From Anywhere in the Organization. Thomas Nelson.

[2] Ozsalmanli, Ayse Yildiz (2013). Leadership and Leader Management in Turkey. Social Sciences Journal.

[3] Koksal, Onur (2011). A Cultural Leadership Paradox: Paternalism. Mustafa Kemal University Journal of Social Sciences Institute.