Leadership as Choice – Part II

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To begin, let’s look at the contexts in which leadership choices take place. Many of us have been asked a variation of the question – “who are you as a leader?” This is a difficult question, and in honesty, an unfair question. We carry multiple lenses and identities, shaped by our context, that inform the answer. Trying to grasp our sense of leadership from a sea of information often results in aspirational answers that do not reflect reality.

A different way to examine who we are as leaders is to dive into a set of context-based questions. For example, asking the questions: Who are you as a leader in your family? Who are you as a leader when you are in a meeting? Who are you as a leader with someone you disagree with? Who are you as a leader when you face uncertainty?

These questions move us from abstract to concrete thoughts. We begin to see the answer to who we are as leaders from experience as opposed to aspiration. This allows for specific, moment-based thinking that shines light on our daily choices. When we see leadership at this level, we can begin to examine more deeply if we are showing up as we intend to. Are you showing up in these moments as the leader you intend to be? As the leader you need to be?

In my own life, I analyze my daily decisions on the “best test.” As Robert Greenleaf (the pioneer of Servant Leadership) named, “The best test: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become freer, healthier, wiser, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants*?”  This test serves as a barometer for daily and moment-to-moment decision making, forcing me to question decisions as beneficial to others or to myself; am I making lives better, or aren’t I? Did others benefit because of the decisions I made, or not? The real benefit here is that I become conscious of my daily decisions, no longer a victim to rote daily routine decision making. I become aware of my leadership in moments, and this awareness then scales back up to the broader context.

Seeing ourselves as a leader in moments, we can begin to explore how daily choices inform who we want to be as leaders, and how who we want to be as leaders instructs our daily choices. This back-and-forth between the larger picture and specific decisions means we are awake and examining our leadership at all levels all the time. With greater examination, we are more apt to make decisions that benefit others more often.

*The term “servant” carries with it unfortunate connotations and history that cannot be ignored. Despite my disagreement with the term that isolates others and/or conjures difficult experiences and memories for significant populations, the message of “serving others” rings true as a powerful framework in decision making and in leadership. 

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Dave Newell is director of the Chidsey Center for Leadership Development.

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