By Cheryl Crumb

I have a friend who excitedly called me, explaining, “I just got promoted.  I’m a leader now!” 

I didn't want to dampen his enthusiasm and tell him that he was promoted to a management role, but leadership is up to him, not to a company declaration. 


What really is leadership? 

There’s no shortage of quotes and this question netted 766,000,000 results in my browser.  It isn't a title, there’s no correlation to authority, and it isn't solely the domain of the top of an organization.  Simply, to me, a leader is someone who takes willing people from where they are now to a desired future.  The journey from “here” to “there” is usually fraught with unknown obstacles and “lions, and tigers and bears, oh my”.  Many journeys end up short of the goal because the leader allowed him/herself to be distracted.  Let’s think about it…”here” is safe and known; “there” is new, possibly scary, and the route has not been plotted.   


Above all, leadership is a choice we make….

and we have to re-choose it repeatedly.  Leadership Is never about safety.  Sometimes we’re tired physically and spiritually, and when we choose to maintain the status quo and do what we've always done, we’re choosing non-leadership.  It’s not necessarily evil, but it’s without power.  Being conscious that we’re choosing non-leadership is a good place to begin.


One thing is clear:  without leadership, organizations falter in times of change. 

It’s critical from the boardroom to the shop floor.  I laugh when people talk about running a leadership class in a day or a week as if it can be “taught”.  I believe that leadership can definitely be learned but it occurs through being in action, not being in study.  Leadership is like Baskin & Robbins ice cream….there are many flavors,   colors, and  textures but at its core it’s about character….particularly optimism, integrity, energy, courage and persistence.  A “willing” follower can turn “unwilling” in a nano-second.  No amount of formal authority can regenerate willingness.  It can only produce obedience. 


What do I say to my newly promoted friend?    


Be clear on where you are now. 


Read the world with eyes wide open and declare the future you want.  Think about this:  the future doesn't exist until you make a declaration about it! "By the end of the decade, man will walk on the moon" (paraphrase)....or...."I have a dream....".    Engage and inspire others in the strength and power of that possibility. Make it visceral…so people can see, hear and smell it.   Enroll others so that this possibility is as much theirs as yours.  Actively involve others by discussing how to get there.  Listen.  Recognize the fears, real and perceived, acknowledge small wins and celebrate achievements.  Know that energy will flag, including yours, as you get past the excitement of the starting line, but not near enough to the magnetism of the goal….so put conscious effort into generating enthusiasm for all of you.  When mistakes are inevitably made, celebrate together what was learned rather than punish failure.  Continue to keep the vision alive and recognize that you can’t over-communicate.  Nurture self-esteem as the gift it is.  Point out that people can accomplish more than they think they can.  When distractions present, focus everyone on what’s important.   When…not “if”…you blow it, admit it, share what you learned and then push yourself forward.    


Consider, there is no leader if there are no followers. 


It’s a take-off on the proverbial, “if a leader falls in the middle of the woods, but there’s no one there to see, was he really a leader”? 

Speaking of willing followers, who’s the most difficult person you’ll ever have to lead?  Look in the mirror!  It helps put others in perspective.


It may be simple, but that doesn't mean it’s easy.  Consider that a coach or mentor can help you on your leadership quest.  Start by choosing leadership!

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