Why “Everyone is a leader these days” has new meaning
You’ve probably heard this statement many times. Maybe you’ve bought into it - or even stepped into it - in your work. I have coached individuals on what their own personal leadership at work might look like, and how they will feel more fulfilled as a result. I’ve had many discussions with teams around how individual leadership contributes to ideas and decision making at all levels within organisational situations.
And yet, the Covid-19 events of the last few weeks have shifted the focus from the obvious leaders of industry and influence, to every single one of us. How we act, how we make decisions, and how we respond to the uncertainty and change in our systems is perhaps the biggest shift of all.
We are seeing the best and the worst in people currently. We are seeing selfless service from so many across broad swathes of the population. People going out of their way to help others, protect those who need it, put others first even when they are facing dire situations themselves. We are also noticing the selfishness and greed of others, hoarding impossible amounts of consumables to the detriment of others, and ignoring or choosing not to believe they have a responsibility to help protect others from possible infection.
When do you step up, and when do you hide?
We all step up in certain areas of our life, at certain times. Often, it will be to protect ourselves in some way. This might be a literal physical threat or accident, or when someone or something we love is in danger. It may be that one of our values is being threatened - truth, respect, freedom. We may be speaking up, standing in solidarity with others, or refusing to be pushed into something that feels wrong. We can call this being a “player”
Most of us will also choose to stay silent, avoid scrutiny or divert attention away from ourselves at times. This might be a deliberate decision to avoid a conflict, or to focus elsewhere. Very often we’re not even aware we’re doing it, and it usually involves making excuses or even blaming. Seemingly small things such as “Sorry I’m late, the traffic was bad”, or “Excuse me, I have to take this call” involve protecting ourselves. You choose to prioritise the call over the conversation you are having, you could have left more time to get to your meeting. Sometimes, you want to look good, and don’t want to be seen as part of the problem. How often have you said or thought “It’s not fair, it’s not my fault!”? You blame external circumstances, and in doing so you take a ‘victim’s’ role.
There are many ways to look at and respond to a problem. Some promote power and achievement, others display weakness and failure. Right now in the world we are seeing many people claim their power and make positive choices. This doesn’t refer only to leaders of countries, we see it in delivery drivers, cleaners, volunteers, company owners who choose to provide services or products for free to those in need. This is truly a demonstration of “everyone is a leader”. They are acting as ‘players’ and - quite rightly - being recognised and praised for their actions.
Being a player or a victim shows up in a game of cards. Do you look at your hand and give up, or do you accept the challenge and try to make the best of a bad hand?
Acting responsibly and intentionally doesn’t automatically mean that we get things right. The cards may not go our way however strategically we play, and we may not succeed in our strategy. However, when we act in this way we focus on aspects of the situation that we can control.
When we act like a ‘victim’ we tend to see only those factors that are out of our control or influence. Thinking this way we remove ourselves from blame and release our own responsibility - often onto someone or something else.
Of course, Covid-19 isn’t any one person’s fault. But we can take individual responsibility for how we deal with it, and what we do to prevent further spread and pain. In this way, responsibility is our source of power and integrity.
What’s the personal impact?
Responsibility - real, unconditional responsibility, always gives us a choice. We choose how to respond to a situation. It may depend on many things, both external circumstances and situations, but also internal motivations. Viktor Frankl eloquently wrote this from his experience as a Holocaust survivor in the book “A man’s search for meaning”:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
Most of us have not had to endure anything close to this kind of experience, however at this time we all have difficult decisions and situations to deal with. This is where we can draw upon our values - those foundational and aspirational attributes that are really important to us. When we act in line with our values, we may still be conflicted - life is complicated - but we have strong and personal guides to help support us.
But I believe the real impact of being a ‘player’ and taking responsibility for our actions, is that we have the internal knowledge of always having done the best we can, acting with integrity in alignment with our values.