4 MINUTE READ | March 3, 2017
LEADERSHIP – and why it’s not an all-caps activity
Gandhi. Churchill. Jobs. Lincoln. William Wallace (especially). These are undoubtedly LEADERS – both in their fields and in the classic definition of the word (and classic caps). In fact, a quick Google search will bring all of these names to the foreground. Aside from Wallace, which I feel like must be an algorithm issue…
However, despite this archetypal view of what a leader is, you don’t have to lead a nation, a movement, or a company to be a leader. You don’t even have to lead a team. Leadership is not about status, title, the number of reports, millions in the bank, or level/scale of influence. Leadership is about how you conduct yourself on a day-in, day-out basis. That’s what makes a LEADER leader.
One of my favorite (yet very brief) Ted Talks is called “Everyday Leadership” by Drew Dudley. Watch below as Drew makes this point using a very colorful, and personal, example:
So again – it’s not big, sweeping, titanic moments that make a leader. It’s the collection of small but sincere gestures, decisions, and behaviors that earn people the qualities (and status) of leadership. And just because the moment is small in “scale,” doesn’t mean it’s insignificant. In fact, I would challenge you that your most significant leadership moments and leadership decisions are when few – or potentially no – people are there to witness it.
As an example, my first agency job had me working beside an Account Manager – who we’ll call Paul – who had been with the agency since it was founded. Being a flat culture, I had no idea anyone’s title or position in the company when I started there.
On my first day, Paul wasn’t “assigned” to look after me or ensure I was orientated with the company, but took it upon himself several times during the day to check on me, offer me tips, insights, encouragement, and generally make me feel at ease in this new environment. In the days that followed, he continued to offer his help and mentorship to me without obligation. I also observed him greet visitors to the office, clean up spills or messes left unattended, step up to take on unowned (but essential) tasks and projects, and pick the atmosphere up during a tough day.
To me, it was clear within my first week that Paul was the leader in the office. Even as it emerged that Paul held little more “authority” than I did in the agency org based on position and title, his everyday behaviors – which were, crucially, consistent behaviors that he displayed every day – made him the most clear and effective leader we had at that agency. And he gained that status and respect with me not through title or any other “given” attribute – but by earning it through his behaviors and his attitudes.
So despite the lack of obvious LEADERSHIP (all caps), Paul’s subtle, consistent, everyday leadership (low caps), led me to follow Paul’s examples, take his guidance, go above and beyond on his projects, and hold his feedback sacred in a way I didn’t do for anyone else in the agency – regardless of their “rank” or the high profile roles or projects they worked on.
So how do we action this? The simplest way is by looking at your everyday activities and environment, and figuring out how you can incorporate leadership “moments.” Perhaps that’s adding a coaching moment into your team’s daily standup, offering a word of encouragement to a teammate having a tough day, taking initiative on a project that’s been sitting without an owner, or being the first to step in to help when someone needs it. If you do that and make such moments part of your every day on a consistent basis – you will see the change in both yourself and the perspective of those around you.
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And if LEADERSHIP is your ultimate goal, this is the best – and only authentic – way to get there.
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