Recently I arrived in my neighborhood after a pretty severe storm. Trees were down everywhere, a gas line had ruptured, homes had been damaged, and everyone was dealing with debris. On the way to my house, I drove slowly to survey the wreckage. Many of the homes had trees down in the yard and limbs strewn across their roofs and porches. Although I knew it was unlikely, all I could think about was whether my property had escaped serious damage.
Before I could get there, I passed a residence with a massive Bradford Pear tree sprawled across the driveway, blocking it and trapping the owners at home. An impromptu assembly line had formed around it, and I slowed down to watch as a few people worked at the tree with chainsaws, and others dragged cut limbs away and placed them in piles along the street. My thoughts quickly shifted from watching the others work to how I might be able to help. In that instant, I went from being an observer, to making a choice to participate. I rolled down my window and shouted that I would be back to help in a minute. I drove to my house, changed clothes, grabbed gloves, and was headed out the door when my son and his friend asked if they could help. We grabbed more gloves and water and headed back to help our neighbor.
We helped clear that tree and then worked on several more trees in other yards until it got too dark out to see. I was proud that my son got to be part of something that made a difference for others. However, that probably would not have happened if others hadn’t already been helping when I drove by. When I entered my neighborhood that evening, I wasn’t thinking about ways I could be of service. I wasn’t even focused on the challenges my neighbors might be facing. I was only focused internally until others, through their choices and actions, provided a moment of insight about what I should be doing and how I could start doing it.
Leadership is like that-it often boils down to taking actions or having conversations that cause others to become more valuable than they would have without you. A lot of good work was done in my neighborhood the evening of that storm because someone took the initiative to start helping others. Anyone can lead. Your choices and actions determine your ability to influence others far more than your role, title, or tenure. Even when we build new manager training or leadership development programs in our organizations, we need to give serious thought to what leadership means in our business, and what behaviors we want to encourage so that we cause that picture of leadership to come to life. Teaching people to be a catalyst for others, to plan for that, prepare for that, develop themselves for that, and to engage in that, is how we go from being a team with potential to a team celebrating success.
Sometimes, it only takes a moment of insight for someone to decide to make a bigger impact with what they do next. Leaders cause that insight, and it can happen anywhere.
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