Sunday, November 24, 2013

Leaders Come in all Shapes and Forms

That's me in the center (uh, no...)
What kind of a leader are you? The prototype is dominant, forceful and unwavering. In recent years, I’ve learned there are other, less obvious types that are just as legitimate.
They can be laid back, open-minded and introverted. They also can be reluctant leaders, like I used to be until I figured out it was okay to be me. That is to say, I can be the type of person I am, personality- and temperament-wise and still be an effective leader.
There was a time when I shrank from the notion that I was a leader. This, despite holding what most would define as leadership roles. Since early in adulthood I’ve managed people, delivered speeches, sat on conference panels, advised and counseled folks of all kinds. Heck, I’ve even held the sports leadership role of point guard on the basketball floor and led my team to victory. Twice. Yet in every case back then, one thing remained in the back of my mind: I’m not really a leader – at least in the way I grew up learning what a leader was and how they acted.
Captain Kirk: Prototypical leader (during '60s TV)
Why the denial? Simple. I wasn’t like Marshal Dillon, Captain Kirk, Mannix or any of the other fictional heroes from yesteryear TV whom I admired growing up. They were rugged, uncompromising, no nonsense and always seemed to make the right decisions. Me? Well I was just me.
I also wasn’t like Patton, Powell, Schwarzkopf or other Generals who stood with confidence and held fast and firm with unwavering courage under fire. Nor was I like the always in charge Coach Jerry Saffell or steadfast Principal Louis Martin, two role models I watched and admired each and every day in high school. Add to that list Sylvia Rhone, Cathy Hughes and Ruth A. Robinson, entertainment industry trailblazers who pioneered their roles with grit, savvy, and an unwavering will. They set the standard for leadership, in my opinion.
When asked, some folks might insist they are not leaders since they don’t run organizations, command armies or otherwise manage people. Others, like I used to do, point to their personality and way of being as reasons for not considering themselves true leaders. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Their roles, resolve, actions and success demonstrate to the world exactly what they deny in themselves.
Sylvia Rhone: pioneering leader in male-dominated field
Quite often, evidence of their leadership stares them in the face. Sometimes the proof runs in the background, ever present yet invisible when you think of leadership in only one dimension.
Whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not, you’re most probably a leader of some sort. Got kids? Then you’re a leader. Teaching new hires how to run the fries station or buff the hallways? Leader. Parent, yes; trainer, yes. Leader, also yes. Sometimes it takes a while to face facts.
Leadership isn’t always about telling others what to do.  A ‘boss’ is only one form of leadership. And you don’t have to be galloping on a horse, sword in hand, to be one. That’s the mental trap I was in most of my professional career. I felt like a fake since my style didn’t include four stars and a booming voice. I’ve come to understand there’s something to be said for ‘quiet strength.’ It works for me.
Most critical form of leadership
Any who doubt their ability to lead need only reflect on a time when the team is adrift. Recall how you stood alone, taken the heat or done the work, and the group has rallied to achieve its goal. Whether you get the credit or not, that’s leadership.

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