Some of us see ourselves as leaders. Others of us do not. Yet, the truth is that we are all leaders, regardless of whether we see ourselves that way. As long as we are interacting and in the presence of others, we likely are leading.
If we define leading as influencing the behavior of others through our words and actions, we are almost constantly leading. If you think not, consider these five common behaviors that influence the thoughts and actions of those around us.
When we make an observation or answer a question, we put our thinking into the shared idea and perspective marketplace. What we say may resonate with others or generate disagreement; thus, we are influencing the thoughts, perceptions, and potential actions of others. When we choose not to offer an observation or respond to a question, we leave our thoughts and ideas unrevealed and also send a potential signal to others. Maybe we don’t think the topic is worth engaging. Maybe we are emotional and choose not to share the intensity of our feelings. In either case, we are exercising leadership.
When we choose to take action, we send a signal about what we value, what we care about, and what we think is worth doing. Others observing our action may read a message, feel an urge to join us, or choose to counter our effort. This is leadership. Remarkably, we still hold the potential to influence the thoughts and actions of others when we choose not to act. They may “read” our inaction as being motivated by our perceptions, priorities, or purposes. This, too, is leadership.
When we step forward to support or reinforce the words and actions of others, we add weight to their efforts and endorse their impact. Our engagement may lead others to commit and take similar action. Again, this is leadership. Of course, choosing not to endorse, either by countering or by saying and doing nothing, holds the power to influence others who may agree or disagree with our position.
Similarly, we are sending a message when we ignore the words and actions of others. We may be denying attention to unacceptable or inappropriate behavior, and as a result, the action is not reinforced and may be extinguished if attention was the motivation. Others observing our behavior can take from it a message of what is appropriate and what will garner the attention. Again, this decision and follow-up behavior influences behavior and is an example of leadership.
Further, if we are willing to lend our support and actively promote a position or effort, we make it easier for others to follow. We also create the potential that some people will resist, also influencing behavior. Of course, when we take an opposing position and work against an effort, our behavior can influence the choices and actions of others.
Regardless of whether we see ourselves as leaders and leading, the reality of the roles we play in the lives of learners and colleagues is that we indeed are influencing those around us. Being unaware does not change our role or diminish our influence. If fact, we are all leaders. We need to embrace the role, use our influence to make lives better, and improve the organizations of which we are a part.