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Soul Searching: Do You Lead – Are You a Leader? I’d like to explore the distinction, as a way of getting you to think about your fundamental attitudes at work, in community, and at home. I am 99% sure that everyone who reads this blog leads, and I wonder if it would help if they-you thought about whether they are a leader.
This inquiry struck me in Ron Heifetz’ leadership class at the Kennedy School of Government in 1984. Such weird questions seemed to come from who-knows-where in that class, and some, like this one stuck with me for decades. I intuited: there was something important in the distinction.
Here are some analogous questions, with my answers. I’d be curious about yours. I play guitar, but I don’t consider myself a guitar player. I play golf, but I am definitely not a golfer. I used to practice law a bit, but I never became a lawyer. I lead, and I am a leader.
I have friends who are guitar players. They are distinguished by three things: their expertise, their constant work on their craft, and their SELF-DEFINITION. Same goes for my sisters, one a potter, and one a printmaker. They honed their crafts to excellence, they have never stopped working at it, and at some (perhaps unknown) point they said: I am an artist. My friend Larry Joseph doesn’t just write poetry; Larry is a poet. He is so good, he works at it so hard, and his self-definition is so pervasive, that I don’t think he can even see the world – except through his lens of poet.
So, from time to time, you may lead. Then, most people wrongly think that to “be” a leader you need a position, and they lead when they have that position or authority. I don’t think so. Title doesn’t make you a leader. What makes you a leader is expertise – the word is of course a variant on experience. And if you are committed to keep practicing leadership – practicing – leadership, you become a leader.
Because then you say: “on this street, in this class, at this office, at this meeting, with these kids, with this spouse, I will go beyond myself and commit to making us all better.” If you don’t just lead but ARE a leader, you continually include others, you seek to share inspiration, to encourage, to challenge, to persist, to hope, to courageously face hard facts and injustice. It’s a way that makes you more than you are. It’s a way to make your many worlds a better place and to lead, as a leader,
leading with your best self!