When people think about leadership often they will think about a position within a work or political organization. This could be a manager, a director, a team lead, a mayor, a senator, or any similar title. While it is probable that you will find leadership at any of these positions, it is important to note that positions or titles are not the same as leadership. Leadership is a function; even a manager or a mayor won’t be performing the function of leadership at all times during their work day.
Okay, so what is leadership then? There are many different definitions but commonly we can think of leadership as social influence, or the act of influencing others.
Because leadership is a social role, leadership can and does frequently emerge organically in informal ways as people interact with each other.
If you mention an excellent meal you had at a new restaurant and that influences your friend to try out that restaurant, too, then that was leadership. If you are at work and you remind a colleague to put on their safety glasses (or mask in COVID era) or some similar policy just as a casual reminder so they don’t accidentally get hurt or get in trouble, that’s also leadership. To the same extent, if your boss asks for your opinion on some business matter and what you say influences their decision-making, that is leadership!
The point is, contrary to common understanding, leadership is a very fluid process and it is happening all the time in myriad different ways.
Knowing this, we can choose to lead and be led responsibly. In each interaction, you have the power to influence another person and they have the power to influence you. When you are conscious of this, you can choose to only intend to positively influence others and to only allow yourself to be influenced in positive ways, as well.
Sometimes this can be tricky. When there’s ambiguity, you can keep yourself aligned with your values by mentally asking yourself some questions. At the broadest levels, I like to ask myself, “which of these options would be the best for humanity?” I think like this when I’m considering political questions and hey, it’s an election year, so these types of big questions are probably popping up for many of us.
At normal, more conversational levels, I’ll ask myself questions like “What is the primary thing I have to share in this conversation?” and “What good can I do with my words here?” or “How can I be of service to the person I am speaking with?”
These types of questions can ensure that when you are leading someone, you’re not inadvertently leading in a harmful way. I also think that last question is particularly important. How can you be of service to the person you are speaking with? That’s a wonderful orientation during a conversation!
It may seem like a goofy exercise to be conscious of leadership during day-to-day conversations, but doing so can really benefit your relationships and you don’t have to ask yourself these questions all the time. Just check in once in a while. And this type of thinking is also really great for those of us who have or aspire to have formal leadership designations at work. If you’re a manager who is accustomed to asking yourself how you’re showing up as a leader, you’re bound to be ahead of the pack!