Leaders can be found anywhere. Leadership is not necessarily a title but a way of being. You can be a leader without even realizing it. In fact I have come across many people who are leaders in what they do, but have no realization of what that means or the impact they are having. Leaders make a difference in peoples’ lives every day, but if you were to point that out to them they may either get very uncomfortable or dismiss it out of hand.
There are many, if not hundreds, of definitions of “leadership”. Countless research papers, books and articles have been written about the subject. If you google “leadership” you get 486,000,000 results!! If you open up the Wikipedia listing and start reading you may have the same reaction I did – confusion at all the definitions, theories, practices, etc, etc…. It can be mindboggling!
Personally, I appreciate Peter Drucker’s definition: “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Some people disagree or have issues with it, but I believe that upon closer examination, that definition holds some pretty important truths. “Management is doing things right” – there is nothing wrong with this. On the surface it’s pretty clear. The job has to get done and it needs to be managed in some way to be completed. It just gets done, you use what is needed. As I reflect on the first half of the quote, I find passion, empathy, and meaning to be missing. The second half of the quote, “leadership is doing the right things” adds those crucial elements for me. Getting done what is necessary to do, but finding the best way to do it, and by best I mean with thought and meaning (empathy and passion). It’s this dimension that gives what you are doing relevance and even pleasure.
Some people have leadership thrust upon them, others actively seek it out. However there are many more who are oblivious to their role as leaders, I call these Unassuming Leaders. My experience has shown me that the unassuming leaders are often the most effective, accomplishing the most and in many cases, as my title suggests, while oblivious to their natural ability. I think that if you start looking around with this lens you will start seeing such people everywhere. Chris Hatfield in his book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth stated that “Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It’s about keeping [those around you] focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it…”
I ring in a handbell choir that has been in existence for eight years. Nine years ago if you told the director of this choir that she would soon be leading 12 to 14 individuals in a handbell choir, she would have laughed her head off and called you nuts. However, here she is, those nine years later, doing an incredible job of bring together a group of diverse individuals to perform at a fairly high standard, gaining accolades and recognition for her accomplishments. She never sought out this leadership role, she is an unassuming leader. She still struggles with the title, but this is what I have observed. She is passionate about what she does. She works incredibly hard, putting in a significant number of hours preparing for rehearsal, selecting music to fit the group’s abilities, figuring out which individual is best to play at each position. She knows her team and their abilities and continuously encourages them, which then leads to improvement in skill. Tell her she is demonstrating Drucker’s definition of leadership and she will laugh. That’s Unassuming Leadership.