Leadership as personal expression. Where to begin?
Leadership is often thought of as a group and social phenomenon. While it ends there,
I think it starts closer to home, with ourselves. Let me explain. Judy is a friend and consulting colleague. I’ve known her for more than 30 years. During that time she has accomplished many things. She completed her doctorate and started her consulting business. She stepped into progressive leadership roles within her professional community, wrote books, and spoke passionately around the world on topics important to her. She has provided thoughtful mentoring and coaching to folks about their professional and personal concerns. Along the way, Judy attended to different physical maladies and dealt with her share of personal losses and tragedies.
Leadership is about the future, envisioning a particular future we hope to realize. Declaring that future is the first step. However crucial that utterance is (whether aloud to others, or privately to oneself), it still requires us to take action to fulfill that future. There are many choices we will have along the way. Each choice defines our anticipated path. Each choice moves us toward our goals and defines next steps along our journey. Certainly, if we are ambitious in life, then we will have many goals we want to achieve.
Along that path we need to develop discipline, to be willing to sacrifice other things for our choices. The path may be relatively simple, but probably not easy and definitely full of questions. Do we need to anticipate and prepare the same way we might pack for a trip or condition ourselves for a race? Will we set ourselves up to play our best game, to put our best self forth, regardless of the outcome?
To answer ‘yes’ to these questions is to acknowledge the expression of our own leadership.
Judy organized herself to complete her dissertation, accepting and meeting the requisite challenges while declining to engage in other activities that would deflect her from her path. She expressed her passion for the vibrancy of her professional society through her volunteer efforts, expertise and leadership. She shared her care for others by offering a generous listening, a compassionate heart and a helping hand.
Another, more personal, example for me was my mother. She was a leader in our family. Mom carried on the traditions of her own mother by organizing and cooking the Sunday meals at her home. For years, my family and our friends joined my parents for dinner, conversation and renewal. Mom filled our stomachs and hearts. She organized herself to make the Sunday meals happen, took joy and pride at the communal gathering. She gained strength from the touches, conversations and even the gift of leftovers she sent back into the world.
My creativity, so I am told, comes through my cooking. As an expression of taking care of myself by taking care of others, I often innovate from a recipe, creating unexpected and delightful combinations of flavors and textures that are pleasing to both eye and palate. Here, I express my personal leadership as I organize myself to deliver on delicious possibilities for others.
Professionally, I carry on similar traditions with clients and colleagues. I love to listen deeply, learn, and then weave different discourses and distinctions into compelling observations, invitations and stories. I love to enable others to learn how to learn, so that they bring their best selves forward and perform at higher levels. They become adaptive, resilient and persistent amidst life’s ironies, challenges and breakdowns.
In the business world we tend to think of leadership as something we do with others, and that is true. There is a connection and an affirmation of the direction we take together, the finding of common cause or purpose. We touches hearts, focusing and mobilizing energy and action. We encourage engagement, practice to get better and to become better because of our efforts. I think that these benefits accrue, in large part, because of our choices and expressions of personal leadership. That comes first.
Where do you recognize your personal leadership? What expressions does it take? Do you stay connected to what you care about? Do you act on the things that matter to you? Where are you bringing your best and being your best self?
Take a step back and reflect. This can be an opportunity to gain perspective and explore something in fresh ways. I invite you to have a conversation about this with someone who matters to you, listening at least as deeply as you speak about your world. What are you discovering? Then join the conversation and add your thoughts here.
This is my first blog on leadership. Every month I will offer something new. Let’s see how we can grow the conversation together. My intention is to provoke you to reflect and be curious. Go ahead - conduct mindful experiments by engaging, taking action and noticing what’s happening.
I have been fortunate to learn from many people I’ve gotten to know over the years. Now is my time to try to pay that forward. I invite you to join our learning community. Add your thoughts on leadership to the conversation as your personal expression.