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From Charismatic Leaders to Everyday Leadership

Career transitions and changing working identities - pivot number one.


A little over 12 months ago, I wrote about my experience transitioning my working identity. It's a journey I was a year into at the time and one that I wasn't sure when it would end. I still don't. Although I have made some progress in understanding myself, where I'm coming from and more about where I'm going - or at least what I'm experimenting with. 


Eighteen months ago, I started Ordinary Leadership to understand how everyday leadership worked. Looking at the literature and what I learned in my MBA, I felt that the focus of leadership thinking was always on growth and getting to the top. Leadership advice feels like something for the 'privileged' few in positions of power or at the top. Often, we focus it on managers, top earners, and people who are "successful." And yet, authentic leadership comes from when people choose to take action and change something. To challenge the system they are in. 


When I stopped to think about my experience, I recognized two things - that my narrative on leadership had been entirely driven by this pressure to climb the ladder - and that the people I admired and who I felt were true leaders often weren't those who climbed the ladder. In fact, the people I admired in leadership roles often chose not to stand out and be at the top of the organization but found ways to influence and create positive change in completely different ways. 


That was a good starting point 18 months ago: to explore leadership from a different perspective, conduct some research, maybe write a book (I'm still working on it), and begin to develop a consulting and coaching practice.


Of course, with any transition, it is more complex. What's struck me is how little practical advice there is for people in "ordinary leadership" positions. In most organizations, the more senior you get, the more you get 'invested' in you. To make you more effective, to lead more, etc. Yet, organizations are becoming flatters, and our systems and tools are changing. We must avoid assuming leadership should flow down from the top of the management ladder. Instead, we need to create opportunities for leadership to emerge from anywhere, from where the problems and challenges are. 


The realization that many organizations struggle to get ordinary, everyday leadership to happen has started to jump out at me. In part because it's not what they are investing in, and yet when you talk to organizations about what they need in their organizations to move forward, it's proactive leadership at all levels. And yet, they are struggling to get this, partly because we're stuck in a narrative of leadership that needs to be more reflective and relatable to most people. This narrative reflects a type of leadership - but it isn't the only leadership, and it certainly isn't the leadership that most organizations need day in and day out. 


Once I started looking, I saw how our narratives of leadership let us down. I did some work recently for a company where the dominant model of a charismatic leader was the norm (not unsurprisingly). The problem was that it led the leadership team to discount a less charismatic, less refined, ordinary leader working two steps up the management ladder from where they were comfortable. Yet, they held their own, owned their feelings, and demonstrated leadership in how they worked to protect and promote the interests of their team. Imagine if they had more support; you can see how they would thrive. 


Getting practical with leadership advice  

This recognition that leadership support is seldom filtered down into organizations - in their training and ways of working - has led to my first 'big' pivot in the transition of my working identity. A shift from just thinking about a book to thinking through how Ordinary Leadership can be a vehicle to make leadership accessible to everyone and something that anyone can choose/and be supported to do. 


I'm still working out what this means in practice and getting comfortable with the idea that 'it's okay to pivot', but here's what I hope it will mean. 


  1. I focus on understanding ordinary leadership across the organizations I have the good fortune of working with. 

  2. I explore how to get practical with leadership tools - to move away from a lot of the conceptual theory to simple ideas and approaches that anyone, anywhere, with any background, can choose to use. 

  3. I ensure I'm focusing on organizations interested in creating leadership at all levels. I look at how I approach my consulting, facilitation and coaching engagements to ensure I'm a positive factor in creating more ordinary leadership. 


Perhaps more importantly, I continue to explore different ways to help organizations create more space for this type of leadership conversation. So, leadership is something that everyone feels they can do. 


Lessons for transitioning my working identity 

It is not just a shift in Ordinary Leadership. I've been reflecting on what the idea of 'experimentation' means when shifting my working identity. It's the concept I've had to get the most comfortable with - experimenting and being bad at things I've historically been good at. It's like being in a washing machine, all over the place at times.


What I've found has helped the most is:


  1. Checking back in with why I'm doing this, grounding my journey in my purpose of creating a world with more people actively playing a leadership role for positive change. 

  2. Being open for that 'why' to change - accept that it will and revisit the why regularly. While acknowledging the purpose is helpful, you must recognize that the why, or at least how you think about it, will change as you explore different ideas and concepts. 

  3. Be open to changing how you think about yourself - in fact, it's worth viewing it as an opportunity to rethink and reflect. 



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If you found this blog engaging, have questions about ordinary leadership or want to chat about leadership in general, it would be great to connect.

 

I set aside two weekly hours to make new connections and renew old ones. We have half an hour to discuss whatever you want - how we could work together, your projects and ideas, or something else. It's space for connection.

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