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Take Me to Your Leader

Updated: Dec 26, 2021

This world needs more leaders. Not more managers, not more politicians, not more spotlights, not more celebrities, not more CEOs. more leaders. More people who are willing to make tough decisions based on incomplete information and take ownership for those successes AND failures. More people who wake up everyday wondering how they can better serve those around them.

What is my definition of leadership?

I stole much of my definition of leadership from two authors, first Seth Godin, whose talk on the difference between Management and Leadership sent me tumbling down a huge well of knowledge and information from his many decades of writing. The second, i stole from Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. Another author that i have spent many hours reading/listening to. So here it goes.

Leadership is two things:

  1. Leaders make decisions

  2. Leaders protect the person on their right, and the person on their left

Let’s do some unpacking.

Part I: Leaders make decisions

So many people blatantly avoid decisions. We do whatever we can to put them off or pass them to someone else. It’s understandable. Decisions are scary, and they have consequences.

Imagine yourself as a blue dot. We all hope that we are in row 1 most of the time. We follow the crowd, and we all win together. This is generally how we have succeeded as a species. Do what others that came before you did, and it will probably go ok for you too. We all celebrate row 4, where the hero charges head on into the darkness alone and is the only one to come out the other side. I think of Noah, or Michael Burry (dunno why those two, but you get the idea). I think we also don’t fear row 3 much. We all lose, but we did it together and you and i can almost take comfort in the fact that “it wasn’t our decision” or “well everyone else did X, so i did X too”. Oh but how we fear row 2. With dread and cold sweat. What if we went against everybody else, and we were the only one that got crushed. The problem with living as an “odd numbered row-er”, is that the status quo will persist forever while the world around us changes. What once used to work for all of us now works for none. We need the “even numbered row-ers” to lead through change, to try something different, and to innovate.

Becoming a parent, and living through a pandemic has highlighted this in my own life. When you become a parent, everyday seems like life and death decisions, especially at the beginning. Feed or not, sleep or not, this product or that product, are they sleeping or dead! And on and on. This was exacerbated and highlighted 100x with COVID. Mask no mask, see people isolate, inside outside, vaccine no vaccine. Now not only do i need to make a decision, but i need to do it publicly every day, and proclaim it to everyone i come in contact with. There is no hiding where you put your blue dot.

As stressful as this time has been for all of us, i think it has actually helped me practice decision making. It has forced me to think, learn, ask, and then decide where to put my dot and then live with it there. It has actually helped me think about work and the rest of my parenting, and the rest of my life in a new light. I need to just be able to say, i thought about it, and im gonna put my dot here. If i fail, that’s ok. I will learn and move on, but i am making this decision and owning the consequences.

If decisions are the mark of leadership then blame is the mark of non leadership. It is much easier to pass off to someone else. To get sign off from someone else on your designs. To seek approval from management. These are not bad things, but think through why you are getting this approval. Is it to vet and harden your decision based on outside feedback? Or are you simply shopping around for someone else to make the decision for you? Are you looking for someone else’s opinion to hide behind?

This world is changing rapidly. Information technology, social upheaval and inequality, globalization. The things that used to work, no longer do. This might be true across all time, im not sure. This is not to say that we need to re invent the wheel every generation. But we also should not still all be using wheels made out of stone. We need to iterate and innovate on top of what came before us. True decision making takes failure. It takes a lot of guts. And it is greatly needed in our world today.

Part II: Protect

When i said the word “protect”, you likely envisioned somebody who is stronger than everyone else. Surely you must be the biggest strongest person to protect others, without strength you cannot protect right? Let’s level set for a sec.

When i say protect, i mean help. I mean listen. I mean empathize. I do not mean that we are cavemen and you must defend our food from another tribe. I mean you see a co worker who is having a hard day, and instead of avoiding them, you ask them what's up, and you sit down and listen to them and empathize with their experience and emotion. Take the time to ask someone new if they need help with anything, even if you know nothing about their job. Just ask, ask if you can help them adjust in any way. This is protection. This means when the people around you see you coming, they get excited because they feel safer. And the day you don’t show up, they’ll know it.

I love this short blog post from Seth Godin and i encourage you to take the 3 paragraph detour about a study group in business school. “Chip wasn’t in charge of anything...But he realized that the best way forward was together, so he reached out and changed the lives of four fellow travelers”.

Stop waiting to be in charge of something. If you want you can replace the word “leader” with the word “organizer”. Go organize a connection with another person, and impact the life of another traveler.

Where to Begin

What if i told you that you could lead with no followers? What if i told you that, to start leading, you must have no followers? This seems like a version of “everybody gets a trophy”, but gimme sec to explain. These two paradigms of leadership can, and actually should, be applied to yourself first.

Can you make decisions for your own life? Can you make a call and stick to it regardless of where the red dots are. Can you stand up and question the status quo, and move against the tide if you think and feel that it is the right thing to do?

Can you protect yourself? Can you introspect how you are feeling and give yourself empathy and self care? Can you “organize” something that will help yourself reach a better place in life?

The answer to all of these questions is definitely, YES. And what i have found is that leading or organizing anything is so much easier if it's something that i wanted to do for myself anyways. Some simple examples

  • Lunch. I wanna go eat this food today. So i’m going, does anyone wanna come?

  • I wanna start building a reading habit, does anyone else wanna do a 30 day reading challenge with me?

  • I want to go watch this presentation, does anyone else wanna come?

It’s scary to put it out there. But try it and hope no one says yes. Then you can just do it yourself like you were gonna do anyways.

Then What?

Your job may seem like you don't get to make decisions or that decisions are only for your boss or their boss, but i promise you, that's not true. There is always something that you can do to make your work and/or workplace better. Here are a couple of questions that have resonated with me on the subject.

“If someone who cared were here now, what would they do?”

Translated, what would the customer actually want? What would delight them? Go to any service job, fast food, retail store, today and you will find plenty of people that are “doing their job” and you will find one or two people that actually care. And what a breath of fresh air those folks are to interact with. Be someone who cares. And decide what that looks like.

“Always try to make it easier on the next guy”.

My dad used to always say this one to me. Whether that guy is the customer, or the next worker on the assembly line, do your work such that their day is a little bit easier cause you were there. They will miss you on the day you don’t show up for work. And if you go to work on something else, they just might follow you over there.

Make the decision to care about something today. It will matter.

Are you the youngest member of your group? Can you organize ANYTHING? A lunch, an activity, a party, a learning session, a book club, a simple act of kindness? Can you just talk to ONE person and ask them how they are doing? Go do it. And then do it again, and then again.

Lead. We need you.

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