- Everyday leaders make a difference, if only on a smaller scale.
- To lead, you should be psychologically ready—by believing in yourself.
- Leaders do not lead alone; they work effectively with others.
- To lead, you need to compromise; headstrong leaders are rarely successful.
At some point, any of us may become a leader. Maybe the family business is suddenly rudderless, or our kids’ school needs a fundraiser. Or perhaps we just want to fast-track a start-up and test a new idea. None of this will make the headlines. But it’s still a challenge and, at least initially, an uneasy mix of risk and responsibility.
As we settle in, we toggle between anxiety and elation. We do not want to disappoint anyone, including ourselves. This is the situation of “everyday” leader.s What they do will resonate within a circumscribed community, though they are still intensely involved. The question is, how do such leaders take on their responsibilities and carry them out successfully?
Though everyday leaders take charge beyond the glare that surrounds their more prominent counterparts (e.g., crypto moguls, tech billionaires), the problems they face are just as perplexing: What compromises should I make? How can I encourage people to join my team?
But despite their commensurate challenges, everyday leaders have fewer resources—they must do more with less. They must imagine new ways to finance their projects, since, for example, they may lack the credit history to reassure banks. They may need to create a persona inconsistent with who they think they really are. Is it possible to sustain the energy—the focus—for all this? Everyday leaders have no choice.
From this perspective, everyday leaders travel through unknown territory while making the best of the accommodations. Yet while many of the resources they call on may be internal, other people can provide essential support. Perhaps the leading, most highly-distilled idea I have drawn from my years of counseling leaders is that leadership is collaborative: It need not be lonely at the top. Many people are potential sources of support. We need to learn how to tap such support, assess it, and apply it without unduly compromising our work.
“Compromise” is a crucial term in everyday leadership since it denotes both cooperation with others—necessary if we are to survive—and dilution, since too much can undermine what we set out to do. So, making the best of things entails a balancing act in which we draw on other people’s help without giving away the store as a quid pro quo. It’s a skill that everyday leaders employ every day.
In view of its unique challenges, everyday leadership is not just a subcategory of Leadership (just as children are not simply little adults). It’s similar, to a degree, but on a smaller scale. Many of my clients’ issues involve relationships that, while not primarily emotional, have a higher emotional/psychological content than is conventionally associated with managerial challenges. I am sensitive to these issues because I am a psychiatrist. My work counseling leaders, while distinct from my psychiatric practice, is still necessarily psychologically informed. Thus, my approach to everyday leadership is so informed.
Becoming a leader calls on a type of psychological readiness that is part of stepping up and taking charge. Actually, at every step along the way, everyday leaders must learn how to measure and evaluate themselves and be psychologically prepared to find themselves falling short. It’s okay to fall short. What matters is knowing how to acquire the mettle to keep going – and, ultimately, to improve. Part of what I do is help people develop the psychological wherewithal to stay the course and keep improving.
Leaders need to believe in themselves. They are never effective if they are grudging or half-hearted. Anyone can sense a reluctant leader and will find someone else. So, part of being psychologically ready to lead is being convinced that the task is worthwhile. As a general matter, it is worthwhile.
Leaders are change agents. They alter the course of history. By their example, they give people confidence to go out and perform themselves. They provide direction and energy—like Roger Bannister, who broke the four-minute mile in 1954. After that, people knew the so-called barrier could be broken, and then it was, again and again. What was extraordinary became, in effect, everyday. Bannister was inspiring. The movie about him—Chariots of Fire (1981)—is contagiously inspiring.
It is possible to multiply examples endlessly. How about Gandhi, who helped found a nation, or Henry Ford? Even Jeff Bezos, though you might not like his methods. Leadership is important. Think of the world before and after these people, and you get the point. Though everyday leaders operate on a smaller scale, their work is a version of the leaders we all know.
The question is how to fully invest in your own leadership potential and then pursue it effectively. How do you energize people and impart your energy to them? How do you help them see that the road ahead, as you envision it, is worth the trek? Leadership, even in relatively scaled-down contexts, is a combination of the practical and the visionary.
If leadership were not the complex mix of present tense and (ideally) future perfect—i.e., if it weren’t so central to how people organize their lives—we wouldn’t recognize and celebrate it as we do. Our culture features holidays named after leaders—Martin Luther King Day, Presidents Day, and Christmas, named after the founder of Christianity. We take time every year to think about how these people altered our collective experience. It makes us feel good that these people existed. This is no fluke.
Neuronal research has shown that leadership is a fact of human organizational strategy. In “Understanding social hierarchies: The neural and psychological foundations of status perception,” Jessica Koski et al. (2017) observe that “We undoubtedly vary in the skills and traits we possess, and when choosing the appropriate person to listen to, follow, or emulate, we want someone with the skills and traits we consider the most desirable or important.” It is possible to identify this principle throughout history and even in lab experiments with animals. The point is that leadership is woven into social organization and, in most cases, we are glad that it is.
So, try to situate yourself within this historical continuum, if only on a smaller scale. You can’t lead if you don’t see yourself as a leader, on whatever scale. and believe in its importance..