I had a wonderful visit with a friend recently. He is one of my oldest and dearest buddies, and when we get together we talk by the hour about nearly everything in the world. He leads a large organization and reads and travels widely. I always find our time together meaningful and inspiring.
This time he said something that hasn’t left me. As we got up from our lengthy, far-ranging conversation, he said, “Oh, I’ve really enjoyed this. I love the way we lead each other.”
It was a casual comment. He wasn’t making any particular point, but I’ve reflected ever since that moment on his use of the word “lead.” I’ve come to the conclusion that he was right and that he was expressing exactly what I believe about leadership.
While we were together, we talked about our victories and our failures and about the lessons we were learning from them both. We urged books and films on each other. We summarized conferences we had attended and got excited about the “best practices” we had begun to implement. We also coached each other. I sensed some bitterness in him when he spoke of one recent episode and I helped him work through it a bit. He caught some boredom in me and also detected some neglect of my health that concerned him. He challenged me. He coached me. He’s holding me accountable for results.
He was right. We did “lead” each other.
The truth is that leadership is about moving people and organizations to the next level. It is about upgrading, improving, elevating. It is about coaching people to achieve their best so the organization they are part of achieves its best.
What we often miss is that leadership is multi-dimensional. It occurs on many levels. Most executives believe that leadership is setting goals and giving orders. Great leadership, though, exists on every level of human interaction. It is executed through concern for the personal aspects of life, through humor, through setting examples, through creating a culture of self-improvement, through excitement, through studied competence and through the skilled execution of a clear and achievable vision. It is transmitted through every facet of human life.
This is why my friend was right when he said that we led each other. Every impact a leader is supposed to have upon those he leads occurred while my friend and I met. And it all took place in an atmosphere of fun and fascination and over a table full of tasty Italian food.
I share this to help you round out your understanding of your leadership role. You don’t just lead when you are on stage. You don’t just lead at the corporate meeting or in the conference room. If you are a true leader, you lead by how you live. You lift people to new levels through your concern for them and by sharing your life with them. You lead by building a contagious culture of growth and achievement from which everyone you know benefits. As one friend has said, “The true leader leads like he breathes: naturally.”
Ponder this. Look at your life in light of it. Let leadership permeate all you do because you are leading yourself most of all.
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