What is a leader? It’s a question I think about often. I think about the people who surround me that I consider to be leaders. I think about the state of the country and the world and the people who we call leaders because of their titles, but maybe little else. I think of everyday people who step out of their comfort zone to lead – maybe even when they didn’t intend to do so. And I think about myself and analyze my own ability to lead. Am I doing it right? Am I doing it enough? Am I equipped? How can I be better?
What really does it mean to lead? The good news is that since this is a blog post, there is really no right and wrong answer to that question – just ultimately my opinion. Which puts me in the advantageous spot of getting to lay out what I think it means to truly lead – and not just lead for the sake of leading, but lead in a way that makes people want to follow.
In my life I’m lucky to know a lot of inspired leaders. You know the kind of person I’m talking about. Yes, they are smart. Yes, they are driven. But above those characteristics, they are incredible! They make you want to be better, yell “hell yes!” and hitch your wagon to their cart. When they speak you listen because what they say matters. They believe – and so do you – that they can make a real, positive difference. You can literally feel the passion oozing out of them. I can feel it right now just thinking about them!
“I just really want to follow a weak leader,” said no one ever. Leaders must be strong – and confident – and also humble. Admitting our own mistakes is perhaps the boldest move out there. I respect a leader who is not afraid to go outside of the lines, who can speak with conviction and shake up the status quo. Heck, I love a leader who throws out a good ol’ fashioned curse word when they are committed to getting a point across. It demonstrates a fire in the belly – a refusal of being constrained – a human response that proves they mean business. The leaders I admire have spunk, compassion, attitude and more than a little hellraiser in them.
Leading is hard. I don’t care if you’re the leader of a Fortune 100 company, a boutique firm or a family of four, sometimes we just don’t want to be the one in charge. The day before I got married my grandmother imparted some words of wisdom on me: “You set the tone, honey,” she said. “Every day it will be up to you what tone exists in your house and in your life.” That’s a lot of pressure and I am the first to admit that I mess up the tone all of the time. And while some people might say that those words aren’t fair, I’d challenge them to whether or not they can truly say the words are wrong. After all, we do in fact set the tone in everything we do. What do we bring to the to the office – to the board room – to the dinner table? As leaders we have to be brave to walk through fire, make tough choices, fight for what we believe in, be there for those around us – and all in a way that instills confidence and a desire to join.
Everyone can sense a faker. You can’t pretend to lead – at least not successfully – at something you don’t embrace. That being said, we all can lead when we feel that it’s our calling to do so. When you go with your heart, your conviction and your head, others will inevitably follow. More than once I’ve let tears flow during staff meetings. It isn’t because I’m weak or want to quit – quite the opposite. My passion is so strong for my team and our firm that sometimes that comes out in unflattering ways. But no one can argue that it isn’t me – good, bad and teary.
On our team, every person is a leader. Every person has the ability to impact our outcomes, our clients, our camaraderie, our day. Go forth and lead with purpose.
Who are some of your favorite leaders? Here are my top five:
- My dad. He taught me early and often to “have pride in myself and what I represent.” And that giving up isn’t an option – ever.
- Michelle Obama. “When they go low, we go high.” Enough said.
- Rachel Maddow. Because it’s more important than ever to be informed, engaged and aware of what’s happening in this country. And Rachel is relentless when it comes to telling the unedited version of the truth – every single day.
- Jessi Duley. Owner of Burncycle and entrepreneur extraordinaire, I admire Jessi for her drive, passion and flat-out bad-assery. Plus, she’s changed my life, so there’s that.
- Bernard Daly. Unless we grew up together, you don’t know him but he was a doctor, businessman, banker, rancher, state representative, state senator, county judge, and adviser at Oregon State University. He also ran for United States Congress, and was his party’s candidate for the United States Senate. No joke. And by “his party” it should be noted that he was a Democrat – and a beloved one at that – in a county that was and still is a Republican stronghold. His selfless act of establishing the Daly Fund has meant college educations for generations of Lake County, Oregon students, including me. So yeah, he changed my life too. But mostly he proved that it doesn’t matter if you’re a small-town kid or from the big city, when you put your mind to it, you can do literally anything.