June is a wonderful month that I look forward to every year. For all of us, it marks the halfway point of the year, the end of Q2, the summer solstice! The solstice is the longest day of the year for those of us here in the Northern hemisphere, and thus the shortest night. For our family, June also means the birthdays of my beautiful wife, her twin sister, my sister, my brother’s wife (all born within a two years and two-days span), AND the beginning of camping season. New this year is the Federal holiday for Juneteenth, which caught a lot of companies and holiday card manufacturers flatfooted, but recognizes and affirms the important truth that all men (and women) are created equal.
That’s what I’m going to write about today, is this notion that we are indeed created equal, though we might occupy different roles and positions along the journey. Oftentimes, when we talk about leadership, we’re talking about people with the fancy titles - CEO, President, General Manager, Executive Vice President...Senator, Congressman, Mayor, Commissioner, Director...you know, the deciders! But the leadership that really matters in this world, from my perspective, is the leadership people utilize in their day to day journeys - the stuff regular people do every day that influences change in those around them.
My friend Bob Nedbal said a few years back, leading a seminar I was attending, that leadership is “anything that anybody does that influences the thoughts or actions of another.”
So - what does leadership look like if you’re not in the C-Suite? Like anything, it depends on your position and your perspective, but I’ll unfold in this blog (I hope) some views on leadership along the lines of the following:
In Episode 31 of the LoCo Experience podcast, I had a conversation with Jim Rohrer, a high-impact business veteran who got his early business chops in the Sears, Roebuck & Co. organization. In the time since, Jim served in various leadership and strategic change roles for small and medium-sized businesses, and currently serves as the Membership Chair of a large Rotary International district. Jim is brilliant and kind and full of amazing insights and business stories. When we got to the politics segment of the show, Jim shared that he writes a column for the local paper - View from the Middle - in which he writes about what he believes people actually want from their government - compromise and progress - and contrasts it with what they often get - stalemate, anger, and frustration from those who care more about the party than they do about the people. It was a small but memorable part of a very enjoyable conversation, and I’d encourage you to give it a listen (after you finish reading my blog of course!).
One distinctive about Jim in contrast to many of my podcast guests is that he’s never been the head cheese for his organization, the final decider. He’s reported to that person, or partnership, many, many times, was both known and respected by the CEO and President of Sears in its’ heyday, and has been a high impact change agent more times than most people have fingers! - by any measure, Jim Rohrer is a leader! But our conversation, in general, got me thinking about what the “rank and file” desire from leadership in an organization. They want progress, and to understand clearly what the rules and objectives are. And then they want to go to work - GSD - Get Stuff Done!
I’m a terrible manager, many might say - but perhaps, even more, would say that I’m great. The key difference - the ones who think I’m great are amazing self-starters who don’t need to be managed. Because I don’t, not much anyway. I have ideas, which create opportunities for action, and I care about people - so I check in a lot - but I don’t really manage in the common vernacular. For those self-starters that desire autonomy and ownership over their objectives - that’s perfect - and they kind of find a happy home with me and my team.
And that’s where my leadership perspective #1 comes in - development of self-control and self-leadership is key, especially in the economy of the future. Managers are expensive for organizations, a costly layer of overhead that writes no code, turns no wrenches, and makes no significant decisions - they manage. God bless those wired well to manage details effectively and find a good home for them as part of a diverse team, because in the gig economy and within flat organizations, there will be less room for those who manage, and those who require a lot of managing.
So now, what’s to say about this peer-to-peer leadership then, or leadership by a subordinate? Let’s go back to Bob’s definition, shall we? Anything that anyone does, that changes the thoughts or actions of another...so what’s that look like on the ground? I can think of a couple of examples from my team, just this past week or so. Alma is training on the administrative side of LoCo this month, reconciling facilitator invoices, onboarding new members, collecting updated credit card info or sending our surveys for speaker evaluations...that stuff. She is good at organizing and details, but there’s a lot of stuff! So this week Deb came alongside her for some training, shared again with her the tools she uses to stay on top of LoCo’s monthly administrative rhythm and is helping to make sure things don’t slip through the cracks.
A great example of leadership from a subordinate role came from Alma last week when she proposed a shift in our vibe on the Instagram page. Our previous Marketing Manager Rory had implemented a rotating and colorful pattern, which I was on board with, but Alma noted that it created extra work - different thumbnails for the podcast, no cross-sharing of posts from our Linked In or Facebook - which were vibed the same as the website - and that if we simply shifted our vibe to include no distinct Instagram messaging we could be consistent across our channels AND be more efficient with her creative time - win-win!
Alma is new to the team though, having just joined us a few months ago, and she’s young, and changing the vibe on the Insta page is a pretty significant decision. She could have simply made the change and explained it later, or she could have said nothing and kept on doing what had been done before (and was implicitly being asked of her now), but she saw an opportunity to do something better, and took the middle way - which isn’t necessarily the easy way. She made a presentation to myself and our other staffer Deb, illustrating what was currently happening, proposing the change, and explaining how life would be better after the change. We were immediately 100% bought in and behind her, thankful for her level of introspection on topic, and impressed at this level of leadership at such a young age.
There is a term in Buddhism or sometimes used in reference to Buddhism itself, of “the middle way” - avoidance of either self-denial or self-indulgence, and avoidance of either extreme view of reality - neither eternalism nor annihilationism. Used in reference to Buddhism itself, it could be considered a rejection of the notion that “God is Everything” and that of “There Is No God”. I’d not heard this term before recently, but when I started digging in, it sounded a lot like some old wisdom from my grandfather - everything in moderation.
With a nation so diverse as ours - ethnically, politically, religiously - and just as diverse in our thinking styles, preferences, and in some cases even our values - the middle way may be found as the most navigable, and very possibly as the superior path. In my example above, the middle way engaged the team, led the conversation, and established both an intended direction, and got buy-in from the team. In our national conversation, I think the middle way is to allow people and states to be diverse, by loosening the bonds between states and making the national government less involved in local issues.
By trimming the national budget in an intentional attempt to do fewer things - we allow states to do things for themselves and their people as they best see fit. It’s this friction of differentness that has made our nation great. I would submit it’s much the same for organizations - we need leadership but not management - self-determination and thought is a vital part of what makes people great, what makes families strong, and what carries a career, an organization, or a nation toward becoming its’ best self, so everyone should be ready to lead from wherever you find your position.
God Bless you this week and the Independence Day holiday ahead, and Bless the United States of America!