The previous entry ended with my three discoveries. Today I would like to begin the discussion of the first one: leadership is a decision, and a decision that is accessible to anyone.
When I say leadership is a decision, and that this decision is open and accessible to everyone, I mean that we can all influence our context and the people around us. My contention is that the basic decision to lead is always the same. It is a decision to take a stand on something that matters to you.
On December 1, 1955 when Rosa Parks got on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama and refused to obey the driverÕs order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger, she was taking a stand for what she believed. Little did she know at the time that her action was destined to spark the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott, or to launch Martin Luther King Jr., to worldwide prominence.
Taking a stand is not always easy or devoid of consequences. Indeed, it often takes a good dose of courage. Ms. Parks suffered for doing what she believed, as she was subsequently fired from her job as a seamstress in a local department store.
Rosa Parks is now celebrated for her courage, even cited by the US Congress as the ‘mother of the modern-day civil rights movement’. But, on that day, she was simply a private citizen, ‘tired of giving in’, who chose to take a stand.
We can all take stands on the issues in our lives, large or small. I often say to my students that we have leadership opportunities in front of us every day, but we often fail to identify or recognize them. Remember: any time you take a stand on something that matters to you, with intent to influence others, it is a leadership event. It may be in a work group, a recreational sports team, a charitable organization, a family, or even a group of friends.
In leadership workshops with business school students or in companies, I often ask the individuals to find their own leadership events, and to describe them to others in small groups. Some reluctant participants begin by declaring, “I am simply not a leader, and I never do those things”. When encouraged to reflect a bit more deeply, however, they invariably discover incidents from the past where they have expressed a point of view, taken a stand, and influenced a group’s behavior. Many students also identify opportunities to lead in their present circumstances, whether they choose to make a stand or not.
In a future blog entry, I will cite some examples from these student discussions.