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Friday, September 11, 2015

What Leadership Means to Me

Author's note: The following is a paper prepared as part of the admissions process for his pursuit of a Ph.D. through Milwaukee's Cardinal Stritch University.

Copyright 2015, Aaron Scott Robertson. All rights reserved. 

What Leadership Means to Me
Aaron S. Robertson, MSM
May 11, 2015


This author, through a combination of personal work experience and leadership roles held, attempts to define leadership, reflects on his leadership experiences thus far, and states his desires and expectations in pursuing and obtaining a doctorate in leadership.

Keywords: leadership, service, learning, continuous improvement


In this paper, this author begins by offering his definition of leadership and explaining how he has functioned as a leader. He then proceeds to discuss change and how he has participated in it. Next, he discusses his interest in creating a learning organization and how he has contributed to the creation of such an organization. Following this, he defines, in his mind, the correlation between leadership, learning, and service, and how he has utilized his service for the transformation of an organization. He then closes by discussing his goals and expectations for pursuing a doctorate in leadership, and how attaining this degree will enhance his ability to further lead and transform organizations.

Leadership and Change

While there is virtually an endless supply of definitions, ideas, arguments, and perceptions in existence for what constitutes leadership, this author generally understands leadership, through both his own personal experiences along with observing others, to be the catalyst that drives change and that empowers – enables – others to realize their potential, either directly or indirectly. He also believes that anyone has the potential to be a leader, at least to some degree. And so in this light, it is fitting to share these two definitions – or arguably, perceptions – that this author discovered one evening while perusing the Internet for leadership thought, as they adequately sum up what he generally understands the essence of leadership to be:

Leadership is the art of serving others by equipping them with training, tools and people as well as your time, energy and emotional intelligence so that they can realize their full potential, both personally and professionally – Daphne Mallory, family business expert, The Daphne Mallory Company (Helmrich, 2015).

Too many people view management as leadership. It’s not. Leadership comes from influence, and influence can come from anyone at any level and in any role. Being open and authentic, helping to lift others up and working toward a common mission build influence. True leadership comes when those around you are influenced by your life in a positive way. – Kurt Uhlir, CEO and co-founder, Sideqik (Helmrich, 2015).

There are many instances where this author has made contributions as a leader in a variety of work, service, and business organizations over the years, going back to at least his college days as a bachelor’s student, overseeing various student clubs. For purposes of this particular discussion, however, he would like to focus on his role as a customer experience team lead in the communication solutions division at Stericycle, Inc.

In this position, held by the author since March 2015, he is responsible, along with three other team leads, with orchestrating and overseeing coaching and general staff development initiatives for an office of approximately 40 call center agents and support staff. Additional responsibilities with the role include general human resources and customer service duties such as staff scheduling, disciplinary action, conflict resolution, documenting attendance incidents, running reports, and, in working with the office’s customer service staff, some elements of client relationship management.

This author has sought to use this supervisory position as a platform for getting to better know his direct reports, help them build on their strengths and talents, and prepare them with the skills and the big-picture mindset needed to either advance into other roles within Stericycle, if that is of interest to them, or at least help them prepare their foundations for successful careers elsewhere in the future. Stericycle is a national, diverse, publicly-traded company with an international presence. As such, many opportunities exist for advancement, and so this author would like to see his direct reports have plenty of those options available to them. Certainly, his philosophy and approach to working with both his colleagues and direct reports has been heavily molded by his studies in preparation for the degree of Master of Science in Management, which he attained in 2013.

In staying with the subject of his employment with Stericycle, this author recently went through – and it remains an ongoing process – change, via a corporate acquisition. Stericyle acquired this author’s then-employer, Spectrum Communications, a privately- and family-owned Milwaukee-area telephone answering service and call center, during the summer of 2014. He has been employed with Spectrum/Stericycle for nearly three years as of this writing, since the summer of 2012. With the acquisition has come the need to adapt to, and embrace, despite many similarities to Spectrum’s, albeit on a significantly smaller scale, a different culture and policies. And now, as a customer experience team lead, he is also playing a noteworthy role in guiding others at his office through the transition. As with all instances of change and transition, there certainly has been some resistance, particularly among agents and other staff that had served with Spectrum for many years.


This author’s desire to create and foster a learning organization is driven by a strong passion to see others flourish and maximize their potential. By incorporating the philosophies and strategies – essentially, the culture – that create the proper conditions for a learning organization, both individual and organizational opportunity become virtually limitless. And while such outcomes only appear at first glance to be immediately beneficial to the organization implementing such a culture, as well as to the individuals within that organization, the broader implications for whole societies and economies become evident over the long term as such organizations partner with others on ventures and the individuals within these organizations leave for others, cross-pollinating with their acquired knowledge and wisdom. Therefore, learning organizations drive broader change and improvement in entire societies and economies, and because of this fact, are socially responsible merely by virtue of their ideals and commitments where fostering authentic learning is concerned.

This author has sought to contribute to the creation of a learning organization in a number of meaningful ways. Returning to the topic of his time with Spectrum Communications and, later on, Stericycle, he has sought out opportunities to share with his colleagues and superiors knowledge and insights gained through both his formal education and practical work and business experience. He has done this via mechanisms like cross-functional committees, one-on-one meetings and interactions, workshops, listening sessions, and research reports and special projects. In some cases, he has spearheaded these various efforts, while in others, has merely been an active and engaged participant. Likewise, he has taken as many opportunities as possible to learn from others within the company, from all levels and a wide array of functions.

Service and Organizational Transformation

This author views the relationship between leadership, learning, and service as being like spokes on a wheel. They are interconnected, and, therefore, move along together on a journey. When one of these spokes, these facets, is on the move, the other two accompany it for the ride. He believes that one cannot have one of these – call them what we may: activities, events, ideals – without the other two being present.

The driving force behind the journey, the one facet providing significant support to the other two, is learning. Learning is behind it all. When one is continuously learning, one is compelled to share the insights gained with others, thereby fulfilling leadership and service. The leadership and service components, then, are naturally attained because the insights being gained by the individual, which in turn are then dispersed out to others, are helping those others in some sort of meaningful way, either personally or professionally. For, what is the point in one’s desire to be in a continuous state of learning, embarked on an ongoing journey of discovery and adventure, without sharing that knowledge and wisdom with others, thereby lifting them up in some sort of impactful way? How is it even possible to avoid doing so? This author cannot think of a logical explanation.

Even when the learner may not consciously be aware at any given moment in time of what his or her discoveries may mean in terms of service and leadership to others – he or she may solely be focused on his or her own career advancement or some sort of other personal gain at that moment – what is being learned, nonetheless, is still helping others along the way as he or she strives to climb higher on the latter of personal success. This arguably holds especially true today, in such an intertwined global community, workplace, and economy. That being said, learning for personal gain is compatible with learning for the benefit of others, and vice-versa, and leadership and service are not possible without the presence of learning. Therefore, anyone who has the capacity to learn has the potential to be a leader to at least some degree.

This author’s service has been applied to the transformation of Spectrum Communications, and, later on, his office branch of Stericycle, through his commitment to continuous learning and improvement. He is constantly seeking out ways to do things better and to place staff members from varying functions together in an effort to spur new ideas and increase overall efficiency and productivity.

Goals for Doctorate in Leadership

As far as goals and expectations for pursuing a doctorate in leadership are concerned, this author has many. Likewise, the number of academic and personal interests he has is, perhaps, just as diverse and large in quantity.

In an attempt to tie all of these seemingly different ideas and interests together under one general system and methodology of study concerning the subject of leadership, this author is convinced that everyone has the potential to become a leader, at least to some degree. He is currently working on developing his own broad-based leadership model to explain just what he means by “at least to some degree.”

A few of the essential questions that this author hopes to have at least somewhat addressed through his doctorate studies, and, consequently, the questions that will continue to drive him through the remainder of his life and career, are: How do we come to recognize those with considerable talent and potential in our workplaces and organizations so that we can help foster their development – to enable them by providing them with the right support and resources necessary to thrive? How do we cultivate the right conditions necessary to spur opportunity for others, be it economic, creative, or some sort of other personal or professional needs and goals? What are the ingredients for a successful organizational culture? Taking this thought a step further, what is the actual recipe – the measurements – for that successful organizational culture once the ingredients are known? Getting to the heart of questions like these, or at least as close as possible, for this author, are what it means to define and cultivate leadership, and to be of a genuine, long-lasting service to others. Attaining this degree will help get him that much closer.

This author is aware of the commitment that must go into the pursuit of such a degree and understands that it will not be easy. Yet, not pursuing it leaves a major void in this author’s personal life goals and with a nagging feeling that, without it, he is somehow short-changing others. While the journey will certainly be difficult, the rewards awaiting at the end, for both this author and those he is of service to, are simply too many to not make the effort.


Helmrich, B. (2015, January 23). 30 ways to define leadership. Business News Daily. Retrieved April 27, 2015, from definition.html


  1. Aaron nice start. I would recommend to learn more about EI and how knowing myself and my feelings affects my leadership. I have been part of this organization for 21 yrs plus and have taken the leadership courses and now am leading the training for 12 years. Check it out and get back to me. Keep up the good work!

    In Service,