By Angela Noel Lawson
March 11, 2019
The recipe to make a molecule of water is clear: one atom of oxygen, two of hydrogen. Bam! Water. The recipe for how to lead however, is not so clear. In fact, there isn’t one. There is no “how to” manual. Or rather, there are many, which just proves the point: If there was a definitive model only one manual would be needed.
Further, some books about leadership are either written by researchers, or by the leaders themselves. They draw upon the stories of successful people and derive a roadmap of sorts from these experiences. “Do what I do, ” they seem to say, “and you too will be be a successful leader.”
But, it doesn’t work that way–there are too many variables. It’s why quarterbacks call an audible. Or why doctors prescribe a drug to treat a condition it wasn’t specifically approved for–like a heart medication prescribed instead to treat migraines. Which isn’t to say the roadmaps (or the playbook or the FDA-approval guidelines) aren’t useful. On the contrary, these roadmaps provide necessary foundational information the experts then use as a tool to achieve their goals. Deviating from the path isn’t just okay, it’s essential. The key is acknowledging another expert is also in the room.
We are all experts
I think leadership books sometimes forget an important point: We are all experts. That’s a big statement, I know. But consider this in the context of medicine. The ideal doctor-patient relationship, according to physicians, is a meeting between two experts. The doctor brings the medical expertise, but the patient knows him or herself best. We know how we feel. We know our histories. Our past and present circumstances and goals are unlike any, anyone else has ever faced before.
Often, I think how nice it would be if someone could just tell me exactly how to live my life in the best possible way. This imaginary mastermind could then say, “Do this, then that, and you’re guaranteed to fulfill the destiny for which you were born.” But, of course, life is not like that. We have the great gift and the great obligation to figure out both what our destiny is, and how best to make it happen.
Stories as roadmaps
“It is in our nature to need stories,” writes Jag Bhalla for Scientific American. “They are our earliest sciences, a kind of people-physics. Their logic is how we naturally think. They configure our biology, and how we feel, in ways long essential for our survival.”
Clearly, to become the leaders we want and need to be, in our families, communities, and at work, we need the stories of others as roadmaps, and the acknowledgement within ourselves that we’re already bringing unique expertise to the table.
For both of these reasons, I’m starting a new profile series on the You are Awesome blog. In the past, I’ve written about everyday awesome people whose passion or pursuits offer inspiration to me and others. This series differs only in that I’m deliberately seeking to share the stories of people in various leadership roles.
Like the physician, expert in his or her field, these leaders have amassed a wealth of knowledge. I hope their stories serve as a point of interest in the roadmap you and I are building for ourselves.
Your turn: What’s your leadership story? Who inspires you?
25 thoughts on “Profiles in Leadership–A New Series”
What a good idea! I look forward to reading them. 🙂
Thank you! I know this post is just an intro–but I didn’t want to mess up one of the profiles with an explanation on why I’m doing the profiles! 🙂
Looking forward to this series, Angela. I think we talked about leadership before & how it is so hard to be good leader. Currently, we have a terrible leader in charge of our country. Maybe she could learn a thing or two from reading your series?
Thank you–I’m glad you’re looking forward to it. I am too. There’s so much to learn. And I think there’s some great people out there who have insights to offer. I have been following the news- tough times. I’m hoping it all works out.
Sounds awesome to me! You’re quite right that there doesn’t seem to be a single formula to leadership. Sharing many methods may just be the way to inspire others to find the path that works for them. 🙂
I definitely want to feature a teacher. Leadership in the classroom is one of the most important experiences I think. Managing children or young adults with care and concern? That’s leadership on a whole other level.
YES! Not to mention having to manage the PARENTS of those kids and young adults. 🙂
Your blog posts are so purposeful. It’s impressive. I think one of my big problems in life is that I’m leaderless… There isn’t anyone I really look up to other than a few authors who don’t know I exist. I think maybe you’ve set a goal for me.
Really? You have never been led by an awesome leader!? I have, many times. The biggest thing I notice is the level of care a leader has. When they commit to me, I give a million percent. I’m looking forward to sharing their stories.
But I can relate in a way to feeling leaderless. I struggled to find mentors. Someone I didn’t actually report to, but someone who I really admired. When I noticed a lack of those individuals in my life, I started to wonder if it was because they didn’t exist, or if they did exist, I just wasn’t seeing them with the right eyes. In my case, it was the latter. Now, they’re everywhere. Even if they don’t know they’re mentoring me–they are. 🙂
I am looking forward to this series, Angela. I agree we are all leaders and sometimes we have to hear other people’s stories in order to see our own leadership abilities realized. I end up in leadership roles less through intention but rather by default. I love to hear from people who feel a calling to lead, it gives me a lot of inspiration!
I’d like to hear more about that! Maybe you’d want to write a guest post on the topic?
So I’ve been thinking about this for the past couple of hours. I had an XC coach in high school who was truly inspiring. I’ve written about the impact he had on my life. Other than that, I can’t think of anyone. My brain is programmed to be skeptical of anyone in charge (an annoying trait) and therefore I never give myself over to be led. When I was a drunk, I was the leader of my band of drunks–the one always making all the plans. That was psychologically rewarding and probably contributed to my alcoholism. Those two situation comprise the totality of my experience with leadership. Reading your posts, I think I’m missing out on something important. Sort of distressing. I wonder if it’s too late to locate some leaders.
Absolutely never too late. You know you brought up something I’ve been thinking about from my own experience. One of my bosses actually asked me, “Will you allow me to lead you?” I thought it was such an odd question. Because she was my boss–I had to let her. But as we talked more, the fact is I’m a highly responsible, driven individual. I appear confident and like I know what I’m doing (even when I don’t). I’m tough to lead because I don’t meekly follow. I want to understand, not just acquiesce. So her question made sense, really. Could I allow her in enough to let myself be led?
That was ten years ago now, and I do have to consciously choose to benefit from my leader’s insight and direction. Sounds like you may be the same.
I think mine goes more towards a practiced lack of respect for authority figures. I’ve grown beyond this in the last decade (I believe) but I don’t think I’m really encountering anyone leader-worthy. Probably, I think I know everything already. You’ve kicked me off in an introspective tangent.
I’m sure you’ve already read this… https://jefftcann.com/2018/05/03/crest-the-hill-2/
Always happy to provoke thought in smart people. That may be my true mission in life. 🙂 Thanks for the link.
Also–I’d like to read about your coach–can you share the link?
Angela, I think the idea that some people are not ready to be led is important (your boss’s question). “Leadership” invokes a good deal of angst in me because of my experiences of being put in ‘leadership’ positions and then being undermined by those who appointment me even when those who I was called to lead appreciated my leadership. Also, I’ve been in positions where the people I was charged with ‘leading’ were happier being managed – they did not appreciate the challenge to own their power of choice but prefered to be told what to do and simply follow rules. I look forward to following your series for sure. As I write this comment, I’m struck by all the ‘feels’ it gave me about my experience. Yikes.
Interesting experiences! And really good context for me to think about as this series evolves. It is the case that not every employee wants or needs growth and challenge. I find that a bit hard to understand–as an achiever myself. But, your comment speaks to the many variables leaders have to consider. As always, I appreciate your thought-provoking comments. And I’m very glad you’re looking forward to the series.
Angela – I posted a previous comment but don’t see it. Did you?
I do. 🙂
I look forward to this series, Angela! Throughout my life I’ve had many different important leaders shape me. I’ve also had many different roles (teacher, coach, coordinator, mother, etc.) that have offered leadership experience. One of the most important aspects of leadership (that seems to be the same throughout each role) is that a leader acts more as a guide; a guide that allows every person within the group that they “lead” to become a leader themselves – to be their best self. A leader should never think of themselves above anyone else, instead, he or she should lift others up – motivate them to dream, achieve, and succeed. I don’t know of anyone who would thrive “under” a leader who feels that he or she is more important, smarter, or “above” others in the same environment. Talk about suppression.
In my current life as a homeschooling mother, coach, and league coordinator, I feel that life or experience is one of our greatest leaders. Learning skills while playing an actual game of soccer (not running drills), meeting the son of an immigrant and hearing his mother’s unbelievable story about coming to America, watching your children make butter out of cream in your own home after reading a book about pioneer skills, feeling the natural high after working hard for 10+ hours with extended family on accomplishing a big project, or stumbling across someone with an evident passion and having that passion rub off on you – this is life. I really feel that life (sometimes not even involving a person) is one of our greatest leaders.
You make so many great points here. I wholeheartedly agree. Life is an incredible teacher if we are willing pupils.
We are all leaders of ourselves too. What you describe is the perfect example of you leading purposeful experiences for yourself and others, and choosing to profit (in the learning sense) from them.
Sometimes I think there’s a cultishness about leading. Like being a leader of people or a leader of a company in some higher-level way is the only good thing people think of as “leadership.” For this series, I want to highlight leadership in lots of different ways–including exactly as you describe. Maybe you’d want to write an essay about that kind of leadership for the series? Though I do plan on doing interviews and such, I also think having “in my own words” essays on leadership would enhance the message overall. What do you think?
I’d be more than happy to write an essay on life as a leader – that would be fun for me! Thank you for the opportunity.