Montana State University

Mountains and Minds

What makes a leader? October 15, 2013 • Published 10/15/13

Most of us know leadership when we see it in action, but how is leadership defined? Mountains and Minds asked several leaders from the MSU community to describe the most important characteristics of leadership. Here is what they said:

How do you create positive change in yourself and in your community? How do you work effectively with others, establish a common purpose and cultivate positive change? At MSU, our leadership instruction strengthens people skills, cultural awareness, ethical acuity, decision-making acumen, self-reflection and personal growth to effectively serve our students in their own evolving social and professional environments, both while at MSU and long after graduation.
—Carmen McSpadden, director of MSU’s Leadership Institute, the MSU Leadership Fellows Program, and a noted teacher and a respected scholar of leadership studies

The two ingredients (of leadership) that ring truest for me at the moment are a combination of courage, audacity, really, for doing something different, combined with an ability to draw people around you into your cause and helping those people to become deeper, more valuable versions of themselves through the work that you do together for a common purpose.
—Michael Spencer launched Studio Re, Design and Development, Inc. while still a student at MSU. Now the architecture graduate promotes sustainable housing in Kenya, Montana and elsewhere.

To me, it is essential that a leader is humble and willing to serve first and lead second. Servant leadership is something I strive for because I believe that biblically we have been called to serve with compassion and without alternative motive of fame or glory.
—Lana Lake, senior from Frenchtown, Cadet Wing Commander, Air Force ROTC, Young Republicans National Committee-woman, Truman Scholarship finalist, Septemviri member and recipient of the William Randolph Lovelace Memorial Award

The most important part of leadership is listening to those around you, which helps to accomplish the goals and missions set forth in the most efficient way possible. Using the knowledge and strengths of those whom you are leading will enable their growth, as well as, help to create a better community.
—Julian Collins, director of the MSU College of Engineering Designing Our Community and former program coordinator for American Indian Research Opportunities

Today, our “digital native” millennials are re-imagining the top-down, hierarchal model of leadership to a “shared leadership” approach demonstrating the effectiveness of this new thinking in the workplace, as well as with social media and political campaigns. This “collective” slant to leadership is optimizing their political and social impact both locally and globally.
—Jill Davis, award-winning adjunct English professor, is recognized for incorporating community service into her curriculum. Her classes have launched the rebirth of the MSU Iris Garden and are now chronicling the stories of Bozeman’s senior citizens.

Leadership is about influence-—nothing more, nothing less. Leaders are agents of change that add value to those around them and make a positive impact in their organization. Good leaders inspire their followers to have confidence in them. But great leaders inspire their followers to have confidence in themselves.
—Jason McEndoo is in his 11th season as MSU’s offensive line coach. The 2011 American Football Coaches Association FCS Assistant Coach of the Year has five MSU championship rings, which is more than anyone in MSU history. This year he is working on earning a sixth.

To learn more about MSU’s Year of Engaged Leadership and the cavalcade of activities and events celebrating  leadership throughout this academic year, go to: