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Leadership: Complex, personal, evolving.

In the recent article "Defining the characteristics of public health leadership" (The Nation's Health, October 2013), Adewale Troutman shares his thoughts on what makes a leader. He describes various leadership characteristics, including vision, creativity, passion and compassion, risk-taking, emotional intelligence, cultural consciousness and humility, as well as commitment and dedication.

I agree with Troutman that leadership is a topic which has been much discussed in the literature. Yet, despite countless publications on leadership, the term "leadership" appears to be still insufficiently defined and somewhat elusive. I believe this demonstrates at least three things: First, leadership is complex. This means that leadership has many facets -- e.g., characteristics, aims, support structures, fields of action, etc. -- and we often don't know which facets we will need for successful leadership. To phrase it differently, in leadership, one method or approach may not solve the whole problem.

Second, leadership is personal. I believe there is not a single characteristic or a combination of a certain number of characteristics -- let's call it "traits" for the ease of discussion -- which we can always use in order to be successful as a leader. Traits, such as those described by Troutman, are undoubtedly valuable and important ingredients of leadership, but they are personal traits and not every leader would list them the same way. For example, how about other traits such as self-confidence, integrity or sociability? What I want to say is that every person has to find out for themselves through deep introspection and self-reflection what leadership characteristics are important and which ones should be called upon in a particular situation.

Third, leadership evolves over time. I believe another reason why there are so many publications on leadership is that leadership is not static. It evolves over time and it is dependent on how leadership was viewed in the past, how we believe it is functioning or should function today and what we predict might be needed in the future. In short, societies, including the public health field as a community, change over time and leadership needs to be adapted accordingly.

Troutman concludes his article as follows: "We cannot stand by and wait for the leader. The leader is you. It is all of us." I very much agree with this statement. Public health has developed into a broad field of study and application, and it requires a multidisciplinary and all-inclusive approach to address problems that concern us today and in the future. There is no doubt that we all need to work together and use good leadership practices on every level to make public health work.

Christian T.K.-H. Stadtlunder, PhD, MPH, MBA, MIM, MS, MA St. Paul, Minn.
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Title Annotation:Letters
Author:T.K.-h, Christian
Publication:The Nation's Health
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Feb 1, 2014
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