Leaders Aren't Exclusive
Leaders in the Round, The Leader Lounge, Newsletter for Leaders...as I scroll through LinkedIn I see update after update about the latest must-see workshop or Podcast release you need to hear...... and I cringe.
There is something wrong with this picture. The idea that each of us should aspire to be invited to be part of this exclusive club of leaders inherently undermines many of the most critical principles of leadership.
These titles insinuate that to be a Leader is to have arrived...that we can somehow settle into this position and remain there. That by being a so-called leader we earn the ability to tell others how to become one.
I would argue that nobody is a leader all the time. We choose to live into our own leadership daily. Through the big and little decisions, we make 365 days a year. We choose to exercise leadership .... or we don't.
So, in this effort to commodify leadership we isolate people, having them believe they are waiting on nuggets of wisdom so that one day they might be invited to the leadership party themselves.
Leadership Isn't Exclusive. Or at least it shouldn't be.
Leadership is a practice that we are called to when we want to live into the tricky space of ongoing self-improvement, inclusive practice, and collective action. It is also something we can do without guidance, recommendation, or direction.
We can follow our intuitive internal compass to practice many of the core principles of leadership in our daily lives without recognition and still be choosing leadership.
Now, I should warn that leadership isn't glamorous, it is never easy, and often involves taking the road less traveled. It isn't for the faint of heart and some days we may be simply too tired to lead.
That's okay because it is a practice and not a title or destination.
The good news is that when we practice, we get better and each moment presents us with an opportunity to try leadership on for size.
If the years I have been on the earth have taught me anything, I could be summed up in the following.
1. Leadership isn't Easy- If it were, we would all practice it without fail. Leadership tests us and forces us to confront our own humanity. It involves making difficult choices, being unpopular, and sometimes humbled by the way these choices change us.
2. Leadership looks different on all of us- When we practice leadership, we do so through our own unique lens. Some more quietly, others from center stage. Whether we are shaping or stabilizing the world around us, we decide to contribute in big and little ways that matter. Leadership happens at home and at work. It happens when nobody is looking. Still these acts of leadership shape our world. They inspire movements, build culture and rattle the status quo.
3. Leadership means asking hard questions of ourselves and others- Leadership works inside out. We have to be willing to take a critical look at how we show up to challenging moments in our lives when we are under stress or facing discomfort. We have to be willing to see our own areas for growth and seek to fill skill/will gaps that hinder our abilities to connect with, learn from and advocate beside others. We have to ask more questions when things look like they are going well and be ready to answer with what new acts of leadership this moment calls for.
When group think takes over and the crowd is following along, we have to be ready to ask about the why...consider intention and be ready to insert pause. When we make space for questions we make room for other possibilities. Not to be confused with being contrarian, leadership through inquiry looks like us breathing observation and data into life.
4. Leadership involves making mistakes - When we practice leadership WE WILL MESS UP. Leadership is a risky practice which requires us to put ourselves out there, vulnerable as we do. We may leap too soon, wait too long, miss a call to action. We may forget to consult all the right stakeholders, regret to communicate clearly or find ourselves closed off to the practice entirely to avoid failure. We must be patient and forgiving while noting that practicing leadership is a great responsibility. When we make a mistake we must make all of the best efforts to apologize, confront our mistakes and own the parts of our practice where we have failed.
5. Leadership Means Elevating Others- Recognizing the strengths of others is critical practice. We must seek to highlight others' skills, accomplishments and strategies.This serves a wider purpose. When we alighn our work with others we create momentum, organize meaningfully and scale influence to solve our society's most pressing problems. Leadership involves sharing power, making space for others and knowing when to step back. This also means that practicing leadership means valuing the collective good more than we value credit. It isn't about inviting people to the table, it is about disrupting the systems that suggest an invitation is needed at all.
6. Leadership is contageus- When we lean into all of the discomfort that practicing leadership brings, people see it. They watch us grapple with the challenges and they consider opting in too. It is not because they are waiting for us to explain how, but because they see that when we do, it is worth it.
I am writing this as a message to anyone scolling through LinkedIn looking at all of the "leaders" and where they seem to gather--- don't wait to be invited, live into your practice with fearless abandon instead.