Leader? Me? You’ve got the wrong person, buddy. I don’t do leadership. That’s for that gifted, articulate person up there on the stage. I just do my part and leave the leadership to the leaders. . . .
Stop right there. You may already be providing leadership, or you may be just a couple of words away from doing so.
Here’s an example. This woman saw on Facebook that a person she had known years before was now a prominent psychologist.
The woman remembered what a fine young person the psychologist had been back then. Doing just a clerk’s job in a store, but always dependable, always pleasant, always volunteering to take care of this or that little thing, or to help out.
The woman sent a congratulatory note to the psychologist. The note she received in return actually shocked her. The prominent professional told her that the impetus for rising from the salesgirl position to get advanced education had come originally from her, this older friend, who had made a point of her respect for the young woman’s attitude and potential.
“I didn’t do all that much,” the older person said. “Whatever I said to her was honest and she certainly deserved it. It never occurred to me that it would mean so much to her.”
You never know. Must be it’s really rare, though.
Take a moment to think back through your own history. Try to recall when some informal remark or sincere compliment brought you a very warm glow. You may even be able to track the effect through a few constructive decisions or positive actions you took because of how it made you to feel about yourself.
The person who did that for you may or may not have held some position of authority. That would influence the weight of the effect, but not the basic impact. Whatever, the person forever afterward has had a special place in your esteem.
You may have done the same thing on occasion in your personal and professional relationships. You may even have received the gift of recognition, the moment when the person thanked you. Or – far better – linked your supportive words to some significant achievement of theirs.
Nice going, you leader you. Yes, you.
Pats on the back, judiciously limited to true and deserving moments, are an act of leadership when they constitute a pattern of behavior. But they are not the only “little things” that good leaders do.
Another characteristic behavior of the leader is volunteering to do the nasty or boring little things no one – including the volunteer – wants to do. There’s an unhappy client to be called, or a messy, time-consuming chore that has to be redone. The person who cheerfully rolls up her/his sleeves and takes it on is looked up to, with a touch of gratitude from all those who had just been walking by it.
What real leaders do is often simple, which is not to say it’s easy. Real leadership may not always require superhuman strength, courage and/or discipline, but it does call for stirring oneself out of the ordinary. When you think about it, the ordinary is an extremely powerful force for keeping the status quo.
Sometimes leadership is as simple as just showing up. You can be depended upon to be there, whenever the group assembles, whenever something is to be done, or even when just another warm body will add to the value of whatever is going on.
These people can withstand an extraordinary run of boring moments without showing impatience or losing their ability to make those around them feel worthwhile.
You like to be in their presence because you get little shots of energy and imagination.
Still, this does not mean that the life of the little-things leader is always serene.
Problems populate the realm of the leader. If you see a need to improve something, it means change. When you set out to make things happen, you’re going to create ripples in the smooth surface of routine. That isn’t going to be popular all the time, or with everyone.
The leader actually creates problems, maybe most of the ones he/she engages. Everything was going along quite well until this person decided to start asking questions no one else had asked, or began finding shortfalls in what had been fine before, or what had been at least OK and acceptable.
Maybe it hadn’t really been fine or OK, but we could live with it. Nobody was all that bothered. Why can’t some people just leave well enough alone?
Because they’re either destructive troublemakers or they’re people who are going to help us get to something better. When we’re not paying attention, we may treat both types the same way. We avoid or resist, because it’s easier to live with the thing than it is to upset the regular way we do things around here.
So the leader must be able to absorb a certain amount of negative reaction, sometimes quite strong and personal.
For any of us most of the time, it takes just a small good resolution to give voice to our approval, to find a way to offer a suggestion or find the time to take on some small responsibility. And perhaps to roll patiently, tolerantly with some unfair punches.
That may or may not set us on the path to greater leadership, but there’s a very good chance it will send out a positive ripple or two. It could make for a better place to work, or a better way to work. Ultimately, maybe a better world.
Little-things leadership. You could be just a word or two away.