Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn

The movies and stories make it about the big decisions, the drama, the will, the last stands and heroic pushes. Sometimes it is like that. There are moments of great crisis or opportunity where decisions must be made quickly and thousands must fall in line.

That vision of leadership is not wrong. It is dangerous.

That vision of leadership is dangerous because with it in our minds we miss real leadership when it is needed, and often when it is happening. We are like the man (and it is usually a man) looking in the cupboard for a jar of pickles with a red label.

Only the label is green. So we never see it. We see what we are looking for.

When we only look for heroic leadership we look right over top of the leadership happening all around us. Worse, we look right over top of the opportunities and need for leadership required of us.

Many of us are leaders but there is a great shortage of leadership. We miss opportunities to lead with intention because we don’t know what real leadership looks like. The model of heroic leadership has blinded us and cost us opportunities.

Real Leadership

A hand exerting steady pressure on the back of the organization: a nudge here, an inflection there, that is leadership.

Committing to a vision and a purpose for others to share is leadership. Those others can be employees or customers. We often forget that our customers look to us for leadership as well.

Setting the conditions for the success of others, then getting out of the way, is leadership. You might help shape the vision and the purpose, but that doesn’t mean you have to micromanage every step of the journey.

Sometimes shaping the negative space around a team or a vision is leadership. Real leaders prevent as much as create. Real leaders say no when it protects what matters. Often ‘no’ is a much harder response than ‘yes’. It takes leadership to say no when it is the right but difficult answer.

Newton wrote: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Providing shoulders for others to stand on so we can all see further is leadership.

It is not only the dramatically heroic that are leaders. Every one of us that forges ahead, or forges a new place for a positive idea to flourish, or for another to be successful, is a leader. When we go to bed having only nudged the world into a slightly better place than it was when we got up, we are leaders.

You are a leader when act. You are a leader when you do anything but follow or wait or duck or blame. You are a leader when you create, support, shape, design, protect, stand up and act, or get out in front.

We’ve got lots of leaders. We just need more leadership.

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