When I was a teenager, “leaders” were mythic superheros of a sort. Queens. Presidents. People larger-than-life. They represented to me the unattainable. They seemed to possess such a high level of skill in so many areas that it would take a normal person, someone like myself, two hundred years of staunch dedication to mastering those skills to come close.
I believed, as I think many do, that becoming a leader happened in one giant, cinematic, epic moment. I imagined that leaders ‘became’ what they were that moment they stepped onto a stage in front of ten thousand people, rescued 100 people from a sinking ship, or were elected by a nation.
Certainly those who perform heroic feats and command the attention of large crowds can be leaders. But that’s not all leaders are. Not really.
When will you ‘feel’ like a leader?
There were a few moments in my life where I’ve actually felt like a leader. Often times, those moments weren’t the loud, magnificent ones but the quiet ones, sometimes even moments that passed in complete solitude.
I didn’t necessarily feel like a leader directing hundreds of volunteers, talking to the media about my cause, or even giving a commencement speech at a graduation.
But I did feel like a leader when I spent an hour on the phone listening intently to a former inmate who confided that helping others empowered him to get through his prison term.
I felt like a leader when I wrote a glowing recommendation for an employee for her dream job, even though her successful application to said job would mean I would lose her.
I felt like a leader when I couldn’t sleep at midnight days before a pending hurricane threatened to cancel an outdoor event at which we expected 1,000 people to come volunteer. When I pulled myself out of bed and sent a desperate email begging a venue that could hold them indoors to host us, then went back to bed, not knowing whether I’d be told yes or no. (Spoiler alert: They said yes!)
Moments of Leadership
What do all of these moments have in common?
These moments were all about somebody, or something else beyond me. Leaders aren’t (necessarily) superheroes. I’ve learned that leadership is not about those big moments on stage, in front of a crowd, or happening at the height of a tragedy. Leadership happens before those moments, and after.
Don’t worry if the ‘big’ moments feel out of reach, or few and far between. Think about what you’re doing in those small, quiet moments. What decision will you make when you wake up in the morning? What will you choose when you have to decide between helping someone in need or going home and watching TV instead? It’s the small moments that make us leaders.