Ever wonder why there are more than 350,000 leadership titles on amazon.com? The plethora of models, seminars, speakers, authors, and books on the topic confirms something I’ve been thinking for a while: leadership is less a science (or even an art); it’s more an individual expression… as unique and one-of-a-kind as a snowflake or a leader’s own fingerprint. No wonder so many people have such different takes on it!
This expression of leadership is born from the full range of our experiences. Upbringing and parents. Relationships.Work. Other responsibilities. We can each trace our own ‘leader-prints’ back to a complex web of factors unique to our own lives.
My expression of leadership has grown from three key roles I’ve held outside of the corporate environment: teaching, parenting, and volunteering.
Early in my career, I was a high school teacher and then a college professor. My students were great teachers, since I was learning right along with them. I quickly discovered that me telling them only went so far. My fascinating and well-researched lectures sustained their interest for a nano-second… but when students got involved – when they were working with others, when they were hands-on – interest, retention, and fun skyrocketed.
Then came my own children, who taught me more about leadership than any training course ever could. I remember reading when they were young that we teach the life we live… and that quickly played out day after day. “Do as I say, not as I do” didn’t work any better with kids at home than it did with employees in the workplace. Modeling – whether how to use manners at the dinner table or get along with friends – was the only way to achieve sustainable results.
Along with my own kids came countless opportunities to volunteer. This is where my most powerful leadership lessons were learned. Volunteers don’t do it for the glamour or the paycheck. They have many other organizations vying for their time and talents. And they stick around only as long as their needs are being met.
So, how do these three lessons come together in my ‘leader-print’? I am compelled to get people actively involved – not talking about things but taking action toward joint goals. I lead from the middle, shoulder to shoulder with others in the effort. And I treat everyone – paid or not – like they’re volunteers who are getting nothing out of the experience but a sense of satisfaction and appreciation.
So, what’s your personal expression of leadership? How did you arrive at your own unique ‘leader-print’?
This article first appeared at Lead Change Group in July 2012.