Leading from Wherever You Are


In today’s workplace where the hierarchical model is dead, we are constantly told that we can lead from anywhere. I’ve written about this before, more than once actually, but it’s a concept I struggle with. And it’s certainly easier to write about than to live.

I am the curator for an independent school. For us, May 28 wasn’t just a Thursday, it was the closing day of the semester. For the sophomores class begins with a “check-in.” Today, we ended with a “check-out.” Why does that matter and what does it have to do with leadership? Well, one of the things we talked about–and we’ve been talking about on and off–is group behavior and individual responsibility within a group. This class has struggled all year with group dynamics. Things were so bad in October that we asked everyone to sit up straight, feet on the floor, hands on the table, eyes closed. Then we gave them three minutes to come up with one thing they had done to improve class and one thing they had done to hinder group dynamics. (They were cautioned ahead of time that for this to work everyone had to be willing to be vulnerable.) They were remarkably forthcoming. Of course, they are 15-year olds, but nonetheless. And no, things weren’t perfect following that “Come–to–Jesus” moment, but they were better. So today in our “check out” we looked back to gauge how far we’d come. And what came out of that discussion is what’s important to leadership for adults as well as students: that everyone in a group, whether it’s a classroom, a board meeting or a department meeting, bears responsibility for the outcome. Not everyone has to speak, but  everyone–not just the teacher, department head or director–has a responsibility to those around the table.

When you understand that you are as responsible as your director for the success of a meeting, the dynamic changes. Imagine if you feel responsible, not just to the agenda, the project, the exhibit, whatever, but to your fellow teammates, Visualize what might happen. Because it’s in those moments where I think it’s possible to lead even if you are not the person at the front of the room. I’m not saying it’s easy. It needs to be intentional, and it’s certainly better if everyone buys in, but it works.  So, if you’re not the person with “director” after her name, here are some ways leadership can happen from where you’re sitting.

  • You lead when you listen.
  • You lead when you don’t interrupt.
  • You lead when you turn the conversation to someone who hasn’t spoken or perhaps never speaks and ask what they think.
  • You lead when you sum up discussion, making sure you and your colleagues understand what’s being asked of you.
  • You lead when you model kindness and respect, and when you allow time for your colleagues to reflect on a new initiative.
  • You lead when you partner with someone who never partners.
  • You lead by raising your hand.
  • You lead when you’re not an eye-roller.
  • You lead when you’re enthusiastic about change.

So if you dwell in the middle–not the corner office–tell us how you lead. Because honestly, if 10th graders can model this kind of behavior, adults should be able to as well.

Joan Baldwin


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