A couple of weeks ago I met with a businessman here in town to talk about a new “leadership” group that is forming, so naturally we got into a discussion about what leadership really is. The word “leadership” is used so broadly in so many contexts that, in many ways, it’s actually lost meaning. So, my first question to my brainstorming partner that day was “How do you define leadership for the purposes of the group you are forming?”
He said he was talking about leadership with a capital “L.” So, I pressed and asked him to give me an example. He used an HR situation to frame his response. A leader operating from a little “l” perspective would ask, “What’s the best way to attract and keep good people?” A leader with a large “L” mindset would ask, “What does my organization stand for that would attract anyone?”I got the distinction.
I remembered that conversation last night when I attended a NAWBO Kansas City chapter meeting. The speaker was Jenne Fromm, and she challenged us that leaders are thermostats, not thermometers. Thermostats set the temperature and put things in motion to get the room to that temperature; similarly, leaders have a vision and get others to follow them to achieve it.
Many people think that a leader is a guy in a suit with great credentials and a status symbol job who talks boldly and loudly and does big things, and . . . well, you get the idea — all the stereotypes you can roll up in a pinstripe.
But Jenne showed us a picture of a very ordinary guy and asked us if he looked like a leader. Not particularly. He just looked ordinary. Turns out he was a window washer who was in one of the Twin Towers on the morning of September 11. He ended up trapped in an elevator with a handful of business executives when the first tower fell. Enveloped in dust and smoke and stuck in the elevator, he kept his presence of mind and organized the executives into a finger brigade of sorts that eventually allowed them to pry the elevator doors open. Managing to finally open the doors, the trapped occupants faced a wall of sheetrock. Undeterred, the window washer pulled out his squeegie and chipped through five layers of sheetrock until he could make a hole big enough for everyone to climb through. Encountering firefighters who did not know where the exits were, the window washer led the entire group to safety that morning.
An ordinary guy who had little “l” written all over his photo. His actions were anything but. In and of themselves, the methods he used – positioning a line of fingers on either side of an elevator door and scraping away at sheetrock with a squeegie – were not spectacular. An ordinary guy using everyday resources and making adjustments to achieve what needed to be done. Yet, a leader with a large “L.”
Just something to think about as you steer your staff through the hard work, hard conversations and hard decisions that come with running a successful business. It’s the consistent, calm and controlled ways in which you lead in everyday “little” situations, not just the bigger make-or-break moments, that define a Leader.