What Does Leadership Look Like?

While scanning through some of my earliest blog entries I came across one that had me reflect on the fundamental purpose of this blog:  to inspire everyday leadership through everyday actions.

We may have an idea of what leadership is, but what does it look like in everyday action?  In the post titled  The Red Car Theory of Leadership I discuss the power of creating a context for observing leadership.  The point is summed up in this paragraph:

“If our context for leading is limited to grand gestures like Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech we will miss leadership in its simplest, most elemental form. If we want to be able to seize an opportunity to act as a leader in any given moment we must be able to perceive the moments of opportunities or they will pass by unnoticed like all the cars you drive by every day, but don’t really see. And if we cannot see leadership in the actions of others, how will we be able to recognize it in ourselves?”

Often I work with people who do not see themselves as leaders, but say they want to become one.  Yet it does not take long to observe them leading in the everyday things they do and say in service of their commitments.

One of the most effective ways I have found to help people expand their own leadership capability, as well as to cultivate leadership in others is to develop their ability to observe leadership in the simple everyday actions of the people around them.

What does leadership in action look like to you?

On a personal note…you may have noticed there is a new badge on the site.  Thank you so much for voting for this blog as one of the Top HR Blogs for 2010.  I am truly grateful for and honored by all of your support.  — Susan


Enter A Comment

Andrew Cohn   |   21 July 2010   |   Reply

Nice post, Susan. Thank you.
What does leadership look like?
I believe there are several layers to this response. In my experience, leadership looks like recognizing what is important and then vigilantly focusing on it. Whether it is market conditions, team dynamics, cost control, the regulatory environment, or other business imperatives, effective leaders identify priorities and then focus upon them.
In addition, that focus focus must tap into the enthusiasm and energy of people. And this step is the most challenging because it presupposes that one knows what will invoke enthusiasm and passion. For example, great leadership might look like communicating an inspiring vision of success- or getting out of the way and allowing someone else to provide the details and paint the picture. It could involve lots of face time for some team members and much less for others.
Finally, and most importantly, that focus and unlocking of potential must be based upon a leader’s individual purpose. It might be called a personal mission- a Leadership Point of View, a connection to a purpose beyond profit. A purpose that is about creating, giving, and serving others.
Your simple question is such an interesting one because effective leadership can look very different from one organization to another, from one situation to another. from one time to another. Again, it looks like paying attention to what is needed here, now, and with these people.
A rich topic- thanks again for the post.

Susan Mazza   |   27 July 2010   |   Reply

Thank you Andrew for such a though filled response!

This is so well said: It looks like paying attention to what is needed here, now, and with these people.

I think acts of leadership have more to do with the intent of the action rather than a prescribed set of actions. If we become too fixed in our interpretation of what leadership looks like (or should look like) we can end up trying to “do leadership” and completely miss the mark of what is “needed here, now and with these people”.

(Sorry for the delay in my response Andrew – your comment is very rich and much appreciated!)

Kent Julian   |   06 August 2012   |   Reply

Leadership in action looks like:

1. I’ll teach you how to do something.
2. You watch me do it.
3. We’ll do it together.
4. I’ll watch you do it and give any insight I can.
5. Now you teach someone else using this same 5 step process (and by the way, I’m here for you if you have any questions).

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