Forging Ahead

It should be no surprise that the famous pyramids at Giza, Egypt, stand as the sole remaining representative of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Built on a wide base of solid stone while rising toward the stars, the pyramids embrace four positive attributes necessary to achieve success:

1. The conceptual and craft skills needed to design and create

2. A robust organizational structure to coordinate people and materials

3. The appropriate blend of inspiration and incentives to ensure optimum performance

4. A view of how the complex whole should look when completed and why.

In combination, these characteristics are four triangular facets forming a complete pyramid of leadership (see Figure 1).

The Four Points

Logically enough, the first facet is foundations, the set of technical skills essential to be able to “do” something. In parks and recreation management, these include programming principles, survey design, budget functions and effective communication using various media (as well as many of the “tools” presented in previous Manager’s Toolbox columns).

The second is management, the policies, processes and procedures that define an organization, each staff member’s role and responsibility, and how all are integrated into a functional whole. Please note that, in this scheme, management is considered a part of leadership, not the equivalent of it.

Third is motivation, the ability to stimulate staff to perform at required levels of effort and attitude. (No need to elaborate here; a small library could contain books discussing the vital importance of motivation.) Suffice it to say that each person is, to some degree, motivated differently.

Vision--the fourth and final facet--is the pyramid’s defining feature, the one distinguishing leadership from management. Relying on philosophy derived from values and beliefs, vision permits imagining a future in which one’s philosophy is fully expressed--a trend line that has been intentionally “bent” toward the ends rather than following its natural path. Good management is essential to completing a journey, but vision sets the initial direction and the star by which to steer.

Putting It All Together

Once constructed, the pyramid’s typical orientation can rest on its foundation facet, with the remaining three sides rising to the peak where leadership might be found. More creatively (and realistically), however, the pyramid can be rotated so that its base represents whichever of the four facets is your strongest attribute.

To use sport team coaching as an example, some coaches are strategists (vision), but leave actual preparation and execution to position coaches and players. Conversely, some coaches rely on inspiration and emotion (motivation), and others on process or details (management). Although each coach (and pyramid) has a different orientation, all eventually must lead, so they assemble staffs composed of people possessing complementary strengths while at the same time seeking to enhance their own personal skill sets.

Thus, the leadership pyramid reminds managers to acknowledge not only their strengths, but also the obligation to work on those less-prominent aspects that, when fully-developed, will allow them--and their organizations-- to reach their highest potential.

Kim Uhlik is Assistant Professor in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies at San Jose State University, where he coordinates the Leadership and Administration emphasis. He can be reached via e-mail at