by Susan Lichtenfels
Real leaders are not defined by the size of their checkbook, the amount of power they possess, their sex appeal, or their name recognition. Rather, true, genuine leaders are rich in character, transparent in their actions, and forthright in their attitude. Being a leader is not about winning an election, signing a lucrative contract, or developing a huge fan base. Rather, it is about being the best person you can be and helping others to strive toward their best. Everyday leadership is most impactful at the grassroots level, person to person, worker to worker, friend to friend. When we live our leadership every day, we can change the world.
In crime shows and novels, they talk about whether the suspect had the means and opportunity to do the crime. The means they are referring to are the skills, the knowledge, the personality, and the prior behaviors. The opportunity of course is whether they could have been in the right place at the right time to do the deed. Ironically, being an everyday leader also requires making the most of your means and opportunity.
In the leadership arena, the “means” are all about our actions and attitudes — our character. Character refers to our inward values which ultimately drive our behaviors. It’s the framework for our personalities and who we are. It’s the collection of guiding principles by which we live our lives. Of character, John Wooden said, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
Examples of positive character traits that we as leaders should strive for include adaptability, attentiveness, availability, commitment, compassion, consideration, confidence, dependability, diligence, discretion, determination, fairness, honesty, humility, integrity, loyalty, patience, respect, reliability, sincerity, and truthfulness. Character is the sum of our guiding values. In other words, it is the code by which we live our lives. How we act and the attitude we present are shaped by our core values. For example, if diligence is part of your character, you will work hard and enjoy accomplishing goals. If you have a strong sense of commitment, you will follow through when you agree to take on a task and you will honor your decisions. If you have integrity, you abide by the rules and don’t work the system. People who are optimistic have a positive attitude and find the good in situations.
Unless you are a clone of Mother Teresa, odds are you have a little work to do in building up your character. While you have leadership tendencies, occasionally your character falters in difficult or confusing situations. For example, you might lose your temper and thrash out with criticisms or ultimatums. You may become personally affected and make unfair decisions or assumptions about others. You may get caught up in praise and greed. You might think and act as if the world revolves around you. If you are vigilant about being a leader, at some point you will recognize these flaws for what they are, and you will want to fix them.
The good news is that we can improve our strength of character through on-going self-reflection and practical repetition. Leadership writer Harry Kraemer has stated, “Self-reflection is the key to identifying what you stand for, what your values are, and what matters most.” Author Cheryl Sandberg wrote, “The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.” Successful leaders embrace personal development and strive every day to be a better person. And so, if you don’t currently possess all the means to be the best leader, know that with a commitment to continually work on building your character, you can develop your leadership foundation. Many leadership experts agree with Vince Lombardi, who said, “Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”
Being a leader is not a passive endeavor. Each day we must make an intentional effort to live as a leader. As we grow in our leadership means, people begin to see us differently. We gain their respect and they value their interactions with us. Through our transparent actions and forthright attitude, they recognize us as a leader. This is how we begin to have influence in other people’s lives. And every day, we encounter opportunities to live our leadership and make an impact in others’ lives. According to Steve Maraboli, “When you are just EXISTING, life happens to you … and you manage; when you are truly LIVING, you happen to life … and you lead.” In other words, the number of opportunities we have to lead depends on how involved and engaged we are in the world.
Take a moment to consider the thousands and thousands of people you encounter every day, every week, every year. Think about the roles you play as a family member, friend, advocate, mentor, worker, volunteer, consumer, and organization member. In each of those roles and in all your interactions, your everyday leadership will have others wanting to emulate you, to pay attention to you, to follow your lead.
Essentially every encounter with another human provides an opportunity to be a leader. Everyday leaders lead by example with every person they meet. They live their leadership day in and day out — through a friendly smile, a kind word, a job well done, a problem solved, an attentive dialogue, and millions of other ways. John Quincy Adams said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” There is no qualifier as to how big your impact must be in order to count. Every influential encounter plants a seed. In the immortal words of John Wooden, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”
Whether you are blind or sighted, you have tremendous potential and many opportunities to be a leader. As you move throughout your days, be conscious of the decisions you make, the motives you assign, the actions you take, and the words you use. Strive every day to be a leader by implementing the BLIND leadership strategy: Bold, Loyal, Intentional, Non-toxic, Determined.
B is for Bold. Leaders need to step out of their comfort zone, to try new things and to have the confidence to break out of the status quo.
L is for Loyal. A leader should always be loyal to his beliefs and moral compass. A leader is loyal to his commitments, responsibilities, and what is fair, right and true. A leader loyally keeps the confidences of others.
I is for Intentional. Leaders should live their lives with intention by speaking up for themselves and others; setting goals and pursuing them; thinking independently without succumbing to peer pressure; and striving for self-improvement.
N is for Non-toxic. When leaders are non-toxic, they have a friendly, positive attitude. They don’t complain, whine or blame. Non-toxic leaders don’t lie, make excuses, or act evasively. They provide constructive feedback, not criticism, and they welcome feedback from others. They are fair and unassuming about other actions and motives. They act with emotional maturity in all situations and avoid conflict whenever possible.
D is for Determined. Leaders strive toward goals and dreams. They overcome problems through perseverance. They embrace challenges and learn from them.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” My version, “Be a BLIND leader every day and see your world change.”