My first management job felt like boot camp or pledge week for 2 years. Almost everything I did was wrong or hard, and I used to say “half of what I know and everything I didn’t know was bad.” It was a draining and trying time.
My life returned and my development as a leader progressed only when I started to embrace new (for me) ideas for leadership. I call those Attitude Adjustments. You can read about the others here. Today’s adjustment, the 4th in this series, is the idea that everyone leads.
John Maxwell has famously stated that leadership is influence. Everyone can be an influence and influence can be positive or negative. I’ve often gone one step further in my definition of leadership. A leader is someone who is responsible or purposeful with their influence. Some people choose to be a responsible, positive influence. When we choose to be responsibly influential, we’re practicing character-based leadership. We’re leading from who we are and not from our position or our performance.
For most of us, we’re more thermometer than thermostat. We don’t set our temperature, but we let others, our circumstances, or our resources set it. If enjoyable things are happening to us, we are enjoyable. But when our circumstance or the people around us turn sour, so do we. We are often very influenced by others, not only in our attitudes either. We drive similar cars, wear similar clothes, do similar things, have similar beliefs. In the end, everyone influences. Only a few do so with purpose.
My management life improved when my attitude about leadership shifted. Our organization needed all the responsible, purposeful influencers we could get. As the boss, I would work to help them influence their peers to pursue our team’s vision of an ideal future. My focus had already shifted to others. Now, how could I recognize and energize those who would take responsibility for their leadership? How could I publicize and mobilize and reward them?
Recognition came through opportunity. I watched for those who made the right decisions and choices, but at first progress was slow. Everyone had already learned that I made all the decisions. I had to slow my reactions and let others solve problems. Those that stepped into the chaos with organization-centered motives quickly became those we rewarded and promoted. Over time, I learned to let others take the lead. My job became supporting and working with them. Unfortunately, it was a future job in another city where I noticed the energy and efficiency that came from empowering everyone on the team as a leader. But I saw glimpses of it in that first management role.
Maybe you’re in this spot now. Energy and life come to you and your team when you equip and release responsible, purposeful influencers, and they, in turn pursue, by their own choice, elevated, shared goals. Everyone leads. Equip your leaders to influence the right behaviors in pursuit of the team’s best goal.
Finally, maybe you disagree. I know everyone doesn’t lead in every circumstance. But I still submit everyone has the potential to lead and everyone does have contexts where they lead. But maybe you feel differently. Let me know what you think.