Leading and leadership are often described in positional terms such as:
- From the top
- From the front
- From the middle
- From the center
- From the inside out
- From the heart
- From behind
- From the rear
- From the back
- From the bottom
- From the edge
Google any one of these phrases and you will find insightful and well-articulated perspectives, many from well-known personages, shared in numerous blogs, videos, books and other learning media that are worth reading and contemplating.
The leadership position I like best, however, is wherever you are right now. And when you stop to think about it, wherever you are right now is the ONLY place from which you will EVER lead.
Adopting this attitude primes the mind (and the brain) for potential action, and sharing this view, formally or informally, multiplies this potentiality and its impact.
Once, when introducing this concept to a talented, bright, and articulate mentee, Smita, a 2001 Fellow in an international Early Career Development program that I administered, I was surprised to hear the following concerns:
- I do not yet have the necessary academic credentials
- I do not have the necessary years of experience
- I do not have a position of power or influence
- I do not have a voice in my organization
The last belief–I do not have a voice–struck me the hardest because, if maintained, it would substantially lock her talent within, depriving herself, her colleagues, her organization, her profession, and her community of her gifts.
Similar beliefs would stymie anyone.
Because neither she nor I could change the enormously powerful external cultural forces that had first planted, and then reinforced, these self-limiting beliefs, we focused our entire developmental coaching on who she was at the moment, right where she was.
Even if all of her objections, above, were true (and they and other self-limiting beliefs are always worth examining), no one but Smita herself could choose to limit her own aspirational ideas and their related, positively motivating emotions and intentions.
Nor could anyone but Smita release the brakes, as Jack Canfield says, that threatened to restrain her talent and leadership potential.
With little more than an initial shift in attitude and some practice (because thoughts and actions can be deeply habituated, and changing them takes effort), we began to explore what Stephen Covey calls the “Circle of Influence.”
Forming a circle in front of me with outstretched arms, fingers touching, I created a barrier which I called my personal circle of influence. Quite literally, it extended only to the tips of my finger tips. But it was my space. We all have a similar space.
I’ve come to understand that this seemingly small circle of influence is encased within our skulls: our brains, which give rise in yet unknown ways to consciousness and our everyday experience of self, time, location, thought and emotion.
The first duty of any leader anywhere, therefore, is become aware, to learn that one should, and then how to, marshal thoughts and emotions effectively. This marvelous practice is nearly universally available (allowing, or course, for the negative effects of damage or illness experienced by some), but not without cost. Change takes effort.
So, if we begin to lead our thoughts, at that moment we begin to be leaders in the most fundamental and important way. (In some traditions, these thoughts that we might consider leading are described as “monkey mind.” Sit quietly with your own thoughts for even a few minutes and you’ll see why this moniker is apt.)
Smita and I began to explore her professional and career objectives, and as her thoughts became clearer I would ask, “And what could you do now as a next step without permission or additional resources?” We repeated this exercise until she identified, clarified, believed in, and committed to an action that was completely within her circle of influence as she defined it at the time, maybe even near the imagined bounding edge.
This is when magic begins to happen. As soon as we take a committed action we put things in motion, and we should be prepared to get feedback and to learn. A common initial discovery is that our circle of influence is almost always larger than we imagine. Boundaries are farther out, and some of our limitations turn out to be imaginary and drop away.
This action/learning cycle builds confidence. Pretty soon we might find ourselves excitedly sharing our self-leadership discoveries and circle-of-influence actions with others. And before you know it, we have kicked off the Learn-Do-Teach-Lead cycle.
A leader (writ small but genuinely real) is born–and reborn–on the spot!
Certainly, our understanding and practice of leadership deepen and become more nuanced with learning, experience, and practice. And as leaders–regardless of position–we should want everyone else in our organization to be a leader also. And everyone can. Right where they are.
If you’ve visited Smita’s LinkedIn profile, you know that she earned her Ph.D. and works as a librarian, her chosen profession, at the Indian Institute of Geomagnetism where she has a voice and leads from whever she is.
Need a place to lead? You are standing on it!
Where do you lead from, and how?
Learn. Do. Teach. Lead.