Dude…lead thyself – leadership with a lower case “l”

A few months ago I was asked to sit on a “leadership panel” to discuss lessons learned as a career development leader in NC. I felt like such a poser. The panelist to my left had a PhD, twenty years of experience, his own business, and a gazillion other killer accomplishments on his resume. He introduced himself right before I did…when he was done, the audience looked at me to introduce myself. I just started to laugh…I didn’t know what to say…the first thing that came out of my mouth was, “The man to my left is a leader with a capital “L.” I, on the other hand, would describe myself as a leader with a lower case “l.”

leader vs. Leader? At the time, I wasn’t quite sure what I meant – I was just put on the spot, and as I said, was feeling like a poser, and in true extrovert style, I stated the first thing that came to mind. But that idea has stayed with me, and I’ve thought about it a lot over the past few months. I don’t know about you, but I hear the terms “leader” and “leadership” thrown around all of the time. What exactly do these words mean? Is it simply about guiding and developing others and an organization? Is it a status thing, all about power and controlling (rather than leading)? What if you don’t want to run a huge organization or manage others – are you a leader?

Like I said, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. And I’ve determined, that for me, leadership starts with oneself. What is your mission/purpose?  What guides you and serves as your compass when making decisions? Self-reflection and awareness is so important; finding your voice. Living your life everyday based on your values versus what others think you should do.

The concept of purpose and meaning comes up a lot in career counseling (as it should). Brain Pickings, my favorite blog, has a fabulous post with Hunter S. Thompson’s advice on finding purpose and leading a meaningful life. His advice: first determine the life you’d like to have, and then pick a career that fits that life. I LOVE IT! That’s where this “lower case ‘l’ leadership” idea comes in for me. Simply put, I’d like a simple life, where I can connect with people and help them, spend time with folks I love, and make and design stuff (right now I’m super into photography).

I had a career counseling appointment this morning with a rising sophomore who is having trouble selecting his major. The poor kid was completely overwhelmed by all of his choices, his family’s expectations, the influence of his friends and classmates…he felt he had to pick the perfect major that would land him the perfect job, so he could become a “leader.” The two of us went through every single major offered at our institution; he narrowed it down to seven choices, but was still overwhelmed. I asked him to forget about choosing a major for the moment, and instead to describe the life he wants to have five or ten years down the road – after college. This question really resonated with him – he started talking about his values, hobbies, love of travel and that job flexibility would be important for him. The life he wanted became the anchor of the conversation and his decision-making, not a specific college major. Trusting in what he knows about himself, versus doing what others think he should do – this to, to me, is leadership at its most basic. Leadership with a lower case l.

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4 responses to “Dude…lead thyself – leadership with a lower case “l””

  1. Mikki Hornstein says :

    Love the post, Ross!

  2. Niki L. says :

    This is perfect, Ross. It speaks to developing confidence in yourself, which is HUGE when it comes time to Leadership or leadership.

  3. mrrosswade says :

    Thanks so much Nikki!

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