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10 Ways to Foster Everyday Leadership
Article by Drew Dudley
December 13, 2016
6 Comments

When we evaluate ourselves as leaders and as people, I think we spend too much time focusing on the extraordinary days in our lives.

And make no mistake: our lives are filled with extraordinary days. I’ve found that extraordinary days can be positive. For instance, when you achieve something you’ve worked hard for, are recognized for your hard work, or reach a personal or professional milestone.

everyday leadership

Of course, extraordinary days can also be negative: when you fail at something as an individual or as an organization; when you don’t get that something you thought you had earned, or when you hurt someone that you care about.

However, in life and leadership, I think it’s wise to remember that the extraordinary days in our lives are always outnumbered by the “every days”, and it is in those every days that I think the nature and frequency of our extraordinary days are determined.

I believe that it is in those every days that our true character and the character of our teams are demonstrated, and I believe it is in the every days that long term success is fostered or stifled.

As such, the most successful individuals and organizations that I know put a tremendous amount of focus on recognizing and rewarding “Everyday Leadership”. They don’t just hope that it happens, they make a conscious effort to empower themselves and each other to add value to their lives and to the lives of others each day.

Seth Godiun

I once heard Seth Godin, author of Linchpin: Are You Indispensible? (A book everyone I have ever hired has been given and instructed to read before their first day) say that, “You should never trust anyone who gives you a list of tips”.

As such, here are 10 ideas for fostering everyday leadership that work for me.

1. Never Say You’re “Just” Anything

I hear the word “just” used as a pejorative more often than I care to count.

I’m just…

  • Starting out…
  • A part-timer…
  • The new person…
  • A junior staffer…
  • An assistant…
  • A middle manager…
  • One person…

Saying you’re “just” anything gives people permission to expect less from you. More importantly, it tends to make you expect less from yourself. Do not accept anyone diminishing you or what you are capable of. That includes yourself.

2. Respond, Don’t React

The old adage is true: our success in life isn’t determined by what happens to us, but by our attitudes and actions in response to what happens. There is a tremendous difference between responding and reacting, and it lies in the one extra ingredient that makes responding so much more powerful: thinking.

Taking a moment for three deep breaths before doing or saying something while angry or upset can keep you from turning a stumble into a fall.

3. Plan to Matter, Every Day

Moments of impact don’t need to be accidental. I’ve made it a personal mission to ask six questions.

Try asking yourself these every day:

  • What have I done today to be helpful? (NOTE: I define ‘helpful’ not as helping someone do something, but helping someone feel something)
  • What have I done today to make it more likely I will learn something?
  • What have I done today to make it more likely someone else will learn something?
  • Have I said something positive about someone to their face today?
  • Have I said something positive about someone when they aren’t in the room today?
  • What have I done today to be good to myself?

Four of those questions are designed to add value to other people. Two of them will add value in your own life. Ensuring you answer all six every day guarantees a minimum of 2190 “value adding” actions each year. No one who adds that kind of value is anything but a leader.

4. Don’t Let People Live Rent Free In Your Head or Heart

Landlords allow people to use their property, but they ask for rent in return to protect their investment. Your head and your heart are the most important property that you own. If you’re going to let someone into them, ensure that they’ve giving you something valuable in return.

Anger, hatred, cynicism, and bitterness are not valuable to you in any way. When you allow someone into your head or your heart, and accept only negative things in return, you are allowing them to live rent free in your most valuable property.

To learn more about the man who taught me this valuable lesson, visit: http://aboutleaders.com/Accidental-Teachers

5. Consider That Maybe We Don’t Want Things, We Want the Feelings They Bring

A friend once asked me if I wanted to make a lot of money in my life. I thought about it for a few moments, and realized that the truth was “yes”, and I told him so.

“Why?” He asked.

Strange as it may seem, I had never actually given that question a lot of thought.  After doing so, I told him because it would give me the freedom I wanted to pursue the things that I thought were important. It would keep me from being tied down.

“So do you want money, or do you want freedom?” He asked.

Again, he had stopped me short. I realized the answer was actually very clear.

“I want freedom,” I replied.

“When did you realize that you couldn’t have freedom without money?” he asked.

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The fact is, I had never realized that fact, I had always just known it. And to be honest, that “knowledge” limited my life in innumerable ways.

Perhaps we don’t want the big bank balance, we want the feeling of freedom that it brings.  Perhaps we don’t want the penthouse or the high-end car, we want the feelings of success and accomplishment that they bring.

What if we threw out the road map to happiness and success that our education helped us draw?  Inevitably, that map taught us that certain things were what brought certain feelings.

What if we opened ourselves to the possibility that the feelings could be acquired without the things? It’s not a line of thinking that’s easy to follow at first, because we have little or no practice doing so. The fact it feels strange or uncomfortable at first doesn’t mean it makes just as much sense.

After all – try crossing your arms. Now try crossing them with the other arm on top.

Feels completely wrong doesn’t it? But, it is in fact exactly the same act.

6. Stop Treating Simplicity As If It’s a Vice

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in thinking outside the box, that we forget sometimes things are in the box because they work. If there’s a nail sticking out of a table, and a hammer in the box, there’s nothing wrong with hitting the nail with the hammer.

It’s important to have the ability to be creative and innovative, but an important part of leadership is knowing when to find and use the simple solution.

7. Stop Saying “It’s Complicated” When It Usually Isn’t

Situations we call “complicated” often aren’t. When we say “it’s complicated”, we often know what the right thing to do actually is. What’s complicated is the fact that we don’t WANT to do the right thing, we want to do something that’s better for us, but we know is wrong or immoral. A good rule of thumb is that whenever you don’t know what to do, ask yourself what the person who you WANT to be would do…and then do it.

8. Remember That There Are More Rosalines Than Juliets

For beauty starved with her severity
Cuts beauty off from all posterity.
She is too fair, too wise, wisely too fair,
To merit bliss by making me despair:
She hath forsworn to love, and in that vow
Do I live dead that live to tell it now.

– Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Scene 1, 218-224

Ah, our boy Romeo was quite certain what would make him happy at the outset wasn’t he? If he could only capture the fair Rosaline, he’d have all that he needed.

And then along came Juliet.

Granted, that didn’t really turn out that well for either of them. But I think it’s wise to remember that when all is said and done, you’ll probably actually be happy you DIDN’T get most of the things you wish for in life. As such, handle disappointment with class, patience and perseverance, secure in the knowledge that most of our biggest desires turn out to be Rosalines, not Juliets.

9. Pop Champagne

It’s important to have goals, and to always try to achieve something more. But it’s also important to always take a moment to recognize a job well done. Taking the time to celebrate an accomplishment is not being self-indulgent – it provides the motivation to reach your next goal.

10. Heal

In one of my presentations, I tell the stories of some of the friends I have lost too soon in my life. After one such presentation, a young woman approached me and said, “Drew, I’m so sorry to hear about the pain you’ve had in your life.”

We began to talk and she told me her story—a story that featured the loss of both parents and grandparents in a refugee camp. When she was done, I asked her, “How can you say you’re sorry for the pain I’ve had in my life, when yours so dwarfs mine?”

“Drew,” she replied, “there is no universal measuring unit for pain. Hurt hurts. And only hurt people hurt others. I’ve come to realize that if I don’t want to be someone who causes pain to other people, I have to find a way to let go of the things and the people who have hurt me.”

Only hurt people hurt others. It was such a profound truth that I simply hadn’t thought about before. Pain you hold on to will always find a way to rise up and hurt someone else you care about. I think leadership is present whenever we find the strength to let go of hurt.  I think leadership is present whenever we bring people back into our lives by saying “I’m sorry” or hearing “I’m sorry.”

I think leadership begins where forgiveness begins. Of course, that doesn’t make it an easy journey, but it is one worth starting…every day.

How Do You Foster Everyday Leadership?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Drew Dudley

Drew is the Founder and Chief Catalyst of Nuance Leadership, Inc., and the former Coordinator of one of Canada’s largest leadership development programs at the University of Toronto.

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