This person is charismatic, experienced, eloquent, dressed up to the nines, and generally has everything figured out. This person either owns a company or leads a team, and can raise everyone’s morale with a rousing speech they came up with on the spot.
They work the hardest amongst everyone, take responsibility when things turn sour, and can hardly bear to accept credit when the flowers bloom. Their scope of influence spans not just within an office, but across an entire community of people who look up to them and trusts their opinions on the things that matter. Maven. Maverick. Magnetic.
But the only places we really see these people are on the front cover of Forbes, Inc., and Entrepreneur. Warren Buffet, Sheryl Sandberg, Barack Obama, Jack Ma, Angela Merkel, the list goes on. The media celebrates and glorifies these freaks of amazing and astounding leadership but forgets that every day, all around the world, tiny acts of not-so-glamorous leadership happens – with an impact far larger than you can possibly imagine.
But we never call it leadership. Because our modern-day society has put the term on such a high pedestal that even those who truly deserve it, never feel comfortable labelling themselves a leader.
By that very definition, how is helping an old lady cross the road an act of leadership? Leaders by nature pave the way for how other people should act according to their beliefs of what is right. If you believe that the world should be kind, caring and charitable, and you act on that philosophy through your everyday actions, you show the strangers crossing the road with you and the old lady that it is something worth doing. If they are moved by it, perhaps next time they might do the same. The chain of helping old people cross roads continues and perhaps one day, walking sticks won’t be necessary anymore. But I digress.
Acts of everyday leadership aren’t just plain old’ acts of kindness.
Let me give you an example from my time in the Singapore Army.
I served the majority of my time in the army as a Transport Leader. My job was to familiarise my transport operators with the nuts and bolts of various army vehicles and make sure they could drive and maintain them smoothly. However, I had a motivation problem. I struggled to find meaning in what I did, and so most of the time, I taught my men the bare essentials of what was necessary to pass the required tests. That’s fine, I thought. Neither of us wants to be here, we’re actually saving time and energy.
I genuinely thought I was being a good leader by prioritising the welfare of my men (more time to rest and less nagging). However, one act of true everyday leadership from my buddy Bryan (not his real name) changed my mind. He had a bad reputation amongst the men for being overzealous with his role as a commander and disciplinarian, but no one doubted his knowledge of army vehicles and capacity to teach them.
I had happened to be standing by the side whilst Bryan taught, at length, the details of every inch of this particular vehicle. When he was (finally) done, I approached him to express my point of view.
“You know, they won’t remember everything that you told them. You don’t have to put them through that misery.”
“Sure. But if they happen to remember one thing, and that helps them avert a crisis on the roads, I’d have done my part.”
I was speechless. I knew he was right. At the moment, I felt as though I had let down the men I had taught before, because in doing what was convenient, I neglected doing what was right. Over time, the men grew to trust and respect Bryan because they knew he had their best interests at heart.
Everyday acts like the one above proves that bettering someone else’s life need not necessarily mean making someone feel good. Bryan’s actions helped me adjust my philosophies to become a better leader, and added value to the technical knowledge our men possessed of their vehicles.
No one can quantify the impact that had on me or the others he had taught. Yet, acts like these will never see the light of day or be published on magazines around the world. The small, unnoticeable things. The everyday things by the everyday leader.
That’s why we firmly believe that everyone has the potential to be a leader, to spark positive change in his or her communities. You don’t need to own a company, run a nation, or have a shiny plaque in your office to live up to the ideals that you stand for as an individual. You can be an everyday leader. You might already be one.
We’re not the first ones to talk about everyday leadership. In his TED Talk, Drew Dudley lays out what he believes everyday leadership to be, and I believe that it is mandatory viewing for everyone who wants a better understanding of the impact one can make on his or her community.
In the coming days and weeks leading up to Speak For Change 2018, we will post more content and profiles about the people who exemplify everyday leadership, in the hopes that we can all gain inspiration from them and be better leaders ourselves.
It's all happening at Speak for Change 2018