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Who Are You Leading?

mudholeI once saw a great leader, a camp counselor, up in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. Canoe on shoulders, pack on back, she’d just stepped knee-deep in a portage mud hole. No cries of “Yech” or “Why are we doing this?” Nothing but an cheery call to her campers, “Hey, it’s softer on the left side than it looks, so try the right. I’ll be back to help in a minute.”

Optimism, perseverance, trust that the 13-year-olds she led could keep moving through the mud without her at their side, and a spark of enjoyment through it all–she was modeling all of those as a leader.

But to model those kinds of priorities, one has to be intentional. and be aware that others are watching.

             If you’re involved in guiding anyone, you’re a leader

In The Truth About Leadership, Kouzes and Posner share their research that the biggest influencers in our lives are those closest to us. Our immediate supervisors, not the company president. Our teachers, not the principal (unless we’re the lead teachers). Our parents or other family member.

So, the question isn’t “Are you a leader?” but “Who are you leading?” And once you figure that out, the even more important question becomes “HOW are you leading?”

It’s easy to confuse using the tools of leadership–setting visions, goals, accountability measures, etc.–with being intentional about how you lead. People are watching HOW you lead, though, far more intently than they’re reading the strategic plan or listening to pep talks. Intentional leadership involves carefully selecting the priorities most important to your current situation, assessing whether you have the skills and knowledge to carry out those priorities, and then leading in a way that everyone can see what is important and where you’re headed.

And it gets tricky. Like navigating a mud hole with a canoe and a pack on your back. Because just about every priority you find easy comes with a paired blind spot. Optimists can be unrealistic. If you expect people to do more than they’re ready for, you not going to provide enough support. And so on. Besides, you can’t do it all. If that counselor had tried to take another pack, she might have sunk past the point of easy return, needing to jettison everything to crawl out of the mess.

A better plan? Be intentional in the first place. Have you figured out your priorities for your current role?

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Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.

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