Making Leadership Personal

life in the cracksToday we’d like to talk about how leadership is personal. How it’s not something you wait for as in “When will this board, organization, department, [pick a noun], get a real leader?” As if good leadership is akin to fluctuating mortgage rates, something we have no control over. As if it is something to be desired, but only in a passive way, the way we’d prefer the weather to be a sunny, perfect 68 degrees. We disagree. We believe leadership is personal first then collective. And it is a choice: first yours, then the board, organization or department you wish would shed mediocrity and become the courageous thing you know it’s capable of.

More than a few times in the last year we’ve used the phrase “Leadership can happen anywhere in the room.” Clearly we believe it, but this might be the moment to parse its meaning. In a nutshell, we think leadership is a choice you make, and in making it your behavior changes. When you approach your work as if you adore it–we hope most days you do–and you accept responsibility to the maximum, hopefully it will challenge and inspire those around you. Remember, most days influence matters more than control.

Please know we’re not completely delusional. We understand that there are some organizations where no amount of personal choice, no courageous, visionary, self-aware work will change anything. Those organizations want what they want, and it’s not change, and it’s not you. They are happy mired in stasis being as mediocre or bad as they can be. But again, even in this very dark scenario, the choice is yours. Tying yourself to an organization not likely to change in your lifetime won’t make for a happier you. Loyalty is a good thing, but not if it makes you suffer. On the other hand, the bigger your organization and the further you are down the food chain, the more your personal choices matter. Your sphere of influence may be small, but if you end up with the most creative, happy team in an organization, believe us when we say you’ll be noticed. And if you’re the lone ranger with a board that wants to micro-manage while shirking its fiduciary responsibilities, then you model good leadership as best you can.

To reiterate, in our experience, based on the folks we interviewed for Leadership Matters, good leadership is personal first. Those leaders are self-aware. They are open to change and challenges because they genuinely want to grow, just as they want growth and change for their organizations. They are authentic, self-directed, and self-disciplined. If they need help their organization can’t give them, they seek it, through the Chamber of Commerce, graduate programs, mentoring, friends, counseling, worship. They are courageous. They believe in what they do, but are willing to confront long-held beliefs in order to bring about change. And last, they’re visionary. Not every day. That’s for the genius-award winners, but they’re willing to experiment, to be the change agent.

It’s still January. Still time for 2015 resolutions. How can you change your work behaviors to be more leadership focused?

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