Being a leader even without the title: the quiet part of leadership

the word leader spelled out in isometric pastel graphic letters

An important aspect of leadership is that no one needs to "hand" you the right to lead. 

You imagine yourself to be a leader, own the change you want to make and be accountable for the outcomes of your actions. Whether it is at work or at home, it is the same thing. 

The waiting game 

Most situations at work, home and elsewhere include some areas that don't work, or at least they don't work as well as they could. And most of the time, we know what is required, or what might help solve the problems. Yet, more often than not, we wait for someone else to act first. "Let the other person start/act, and then I'll follow"...we tell ourselves. At times we feel it's not our place, not our responsibility. And at other times we feel like we do not have the necessary skill or authority. And so we wait. And wait. 

This kind of waiting is what makes most of us miss out on seeing the possibilities hidden in every situation (even the most challenging and limiting ones!). The more we "wait" for some designated title or a hierarchical sense of power to make the small, meaningful changes in our immediate surroundings, the more helpless we feel. In my personal experience, waiting is an unpleasant state of mind - it sucks out the sense of personal power and leaves everything we've got in the hands of external factors - someone else, something else. It is not an easy way to live or work. 

The quiet part of leadership

Benjamin Zander, the noted conductor and musical director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, calls this "Leading from any chair" (The Art of Possibility - by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander). The anecdotal references in this book are about how every musician in the orchestra can power the piece that is being played -  from any chair instead of just being another voice in the music. I think this applies to so many parts of our life. Because of real and/or imagined hierarchy, we end up becoming just another voice in the orchestra instead of powering the piece in our own little way. My own experiences resonate so much with this phrase that it has stuck with me long after I have finished reading the book.

Personally, I think of this as the "quiet" part of leadership. No one expects it from you, no one tells you to be this way, and may be no one even sees it working inside you - for a long long time - it is all on you! And yet, it is where leadership begins. You could even define it simply as a way of "seeing" and then "acting". Even if what you can actually do is very little (based on your current capacity/skill), even if all you can do is set an example and let the results speak for themselves, it is an act of leadership. The habit of leading begins there - in the small things you notice and do everyday, even if no one is looking at you. Especially when no one is looking at you

Leadership roles are just formal recognitions of what's already in you

Sometimes, you are lucky enough to be thrown into a position of leadership and responsibility, and are eventually forced to grow into it. At other times, these opportunities/titles/roles etc., come to you because of your qualifications, market demands, niche skills or deliberate choice of action. In such cases, you get to hone your leadership skills on the job. But there are times, more often than not, when roles and titles pass you by. How then can you lead, when one asks you to? 

Personally, my idea of leadership has very little to do with formal roles and titles. It is about making things work better, easier, smoother, or more creatively...whatever your area of function. And so long as you are functioning within a system/community/family/partnership - you will benefit from any improvement to it - so that should give you enough personal motivation to act like a leader. The funny thing is, if you consistently show up like a leader in your own life and work,  over time, this trait shows itself in everything you do. And others around you will notice it (because people are more likely to notice anything that shows up consistently). 

Most leadership roles in organizations are filled by people who are already seen as leaders by their peers, bosses, clients, customers and other stakeholders. What makes others "see" you as a leader? I think it's this aspect of not waiting for someone else to pick up the baton first. Once you start living and working this way, you'll find that there is always something you can do, about every problem. It may not be everything you want, but it will still be something. And it always helps. This insight will free up a lot of brain energy and time that usually gets wasted in feeling helpless. It also leads to a personal and powerful form of confidence. That's always worth more than all the titles put together. 

Don't wait for your next leadership role. Choose to create it from your current one.

About the author:

Jayashree is a coach/mentor (mid-level & transitioning Tech Managers & professionals), writer, photographer and creative, living in Berlin, Germany. She draws from 15 years of corporate work experience in Technology as well as a decade-worth of experience pursuing a creative/freelance life. She is good at finding common patterns from both these areas and applying these powerful lessons to learn continuously, grow joyfully and express clearly. Her passion is to share her perspective and experience with others in a non-judgmental, non-authoritative way. Her curiosity keeps her learning everyday, and she is always ready to start from zero in any area of life. 

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