Choosing to Lead and Two Simple Truths

Leadership can be a complicated thing.  But there are some simple truths about it that can help us  cut through all of the, ahem, BS that so often clings to it. This post, from November 2011, raises just two of them.  What would you add?


Leadership, while studied widely and deeply, remains misunderstood by a surprisingly large number of people.  In this world, there are some who would have us believe that leadership is only for a select few.  There are some too, who believe it is the job of leaders to rescue the rest of us from our various predicaments. And, when they fail, these same people feel somehow justified complaining about it.

think leadership is available to all of us.  It is a choice we make.  It doesn’t always come with a title or a big office but it is there and it asks us to do something with it.  Of course, the more we learn about it, the more likely we are to make it a conscious part of our lives.

Those among us who  remain unconscious and unaware of our own potential to lead would do well to rouse ourselves.  The world needs us all to wake up, not simply to point fingers of blame or criticism in someone else’s direction but to stand up for something, take responsibility for something or set a positive example for someone else.

If this sounds daunting, it could be.  But, it doesn’t have to be.  There will always be greater and lesser leaders among us.  But leadership does not always have to be larger than life. Nor does it have to be complicated.  There are two simple truths that guide me and here they are:

The First one is this.  Leadership is not about you

Real leadership happens when our role as leader becomes about something other than ourselves. At these times, our individual importance is overshadowed by the purpose we are there to serve.

Evidence of it is shown in the quality of our relationships with those around us. Leadership asks that we give others what they need to be at their best.  It asks us to guide them, coach them, talk to them, listen to them, encourage them, and expect the best from them.  Whatever we do, it must  be about that and about a shared purpose.  Real leadership is never about any one person.

The Second Truth is this.  You don’t have to be a hero

Peter Drucker once said, “No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it.  It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.”

Most of us are just that…average human beings.  We do not have to have special powers to lead. Sometimes all it takes is to believe in something enough to be willing to go first. Leadership is about caring.  It is about doing and participating.  If we expect perfection from it, we will be disappointed.  If we spend our time looking to the few for answers, we miss the opportunity to find our own answers and to explore possibilities that can only be found in the brainpower of the many.

The bottom line is, leadership is neither heroic nor about any one person.  It lives in us all.  We show it when we exercise our right to vote.  We show it as parents.  We show it in our communities when we volunteer.  We show it in our workplaces by being there and doing our best, regardless of our title.  So when we doubt our ability to make a difference because we don’t see ourselves as leaders, we would be doing ourselves a service by remembering that acts of leadership are choices we make. Be they big or small, all are important.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?



Filed under building awareness, Building Relationships, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Style

14 responses to “Choosing to Lead and Two Simple Truths

  1. sparktheaction

    Gwyn, a tremendous post – whether it’s because it comes at a good time for my own thinking, or that the wisdom embedded is so rock solid – I don’t care. Having read some of your other posts from 2011, it was a very good year. 🙂

    Best regards,

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Carl, Thanks for that. It is reassuring for me to know that my posts continue to have currency and can bear the risk of repetition 🙂

  2. Carlen

    What an inspiring reminder! No excuses, all must step up to the plate and be a responsible team player. Each person has something to offer the whole. Thanks for your clear and challenging words.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Carlen ~ Yes, you remind me that everyone who is part of a team brings leadership to it. Thank you for that and for your kind words.

  3. Very very true! As a year level coordinator (a significant position of responsibility in my school) situations arise regularly where the best leadership strategy is to watch closely and not intervene. Others need the opportunity to exercise some of their own leadership ability.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      I agree, Sterling. And, watching closely without intervention is also a leadership discipline that is perhaps one of the most difficult to master. At least, I find it so. There is such a temptation to jump in and fix things when really, a better result is entirely possible, even probable, if that temptation is resisted. Thanks for giving rise to that thought and for taking the time to comment here.

  4. Thank you for your post, Martina. It’s a great reminder that each of us has something important to bring to the table of life–and we don’t have to be the head of a big organization/corporation to do so.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Clarissa ~ Yes, it is perhaps easier for us to believe that leadership lies with those who carry ‘authority’ because it relieves us of the duty of leadership we owe to ourselves and those around us who need our participation.
      Thank you for adding that thought and for coming by! 🙂

  5. Another great post, Gwyn. The greatest legacy a leader can leave is having empowered the leadership capacity in others, to help them find the space/confidence to make their unique contribution. Leaders have a right to feel frustrated (we’re all human), but they must be mindful to not blame others when problems arise. In doing so, they (often unknowingly) can erode their organization’s confidence in them. Thank you!

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  8. Gwyn, you said: “Watching closely without intervention is also a leadership discipline that is perhaps one of the most difficult to master”
    May I offer two thoughts that reinforce your statements and those of the above contributors…
    — “During the shooting of a scene the director’s eye has to catch even the minutest detail. But this does not mean glaring concentratedly at the set. While the cameras are rolling, I rarely look directly at the actors, but focus my gaze somewhere else. By doing this I sense instantly when something isn’t right. Watching something does not mean fixing your gaze on it, but being aware of it in a natural way. I believe this is what the medieval Noh playwright and theorist Zeami meant by ‘watching with a detached gaze.’” (Akira Kurosawa)
    — “A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” (Lao Tzu)

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Catherine, ~ You have made a very important distinction here. For me, it clarifies the difference between watching without intervention for the sake of the development of those you lead, and micro-managing for your own sake. The former allows leeway for experimentation and creativity, while the latter feels controlling and even excruciating. Thank you for that and for adding great value to this post.

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