For thirty-plus years, I’ve lived and worked in the world of leadership. Part of my passion has been the desire to understand the intersection of organizational structure, culture, and human nature within the phenomenon of leadership. From early on in my study, it was clear that my perception of confident, effective leadership is different from most.
The way I see it, confident, effective leadership is thwarted by two trends in today’s world:
- The relationship of organizational leadership to globalization
- Popular media’s portrayal of leaders as celebrities.
Let’s look at each.
Relationship of Organizational Leadership to Globalization
Many people think that because we live in a more globalized society, we are living in a much larger arena than ever before. However, one truth still remains:
all work performed by people is local work.
Regardless of how big our environment is, the work is still done in communication and collaboration with people whose proximity to us is made closer by their physical presence or with the aid of modern technology.
The importance of local proximity—even through a screen—has become even more significant as our possibilities for worldwide impact have grown. However, in some important respects, our vision for that impact has not kept up with our reach.
People no longer dream of grand visions; our lives and work have become fragmented and confined. Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and others stand out as visionaries because they are exceptions rather than models to follow.
More than half a century ago, President Kennedy confidently challenged the nation to reach the moon within the decade. And we did. Since then, no similar grand endeavors have been presented to the people of the world that have catalyzed society to act in unity and harmony toward a grand goal of achievement. It is time for one.
Popular Media’s Portrayal of Leaders as Celebrities
The personalization or celebritization of leadership marginalizes many people whose leadership is transformational but who live in the shadow of their shared accomplishments with their partners in leadership impact. These are individuals and teams that are not interested in titles. These transformational leaders are the hidden leaders who do not attract large advertising budgets but make every well-functioning organization what it is.
Effective Leaders Take Initiative, Not the Spotlight
Leadership begins with the confidence to take individual initiative and carry it out. If everyone took leadership initiative to achieve one thing they have never done before based on a concern or passion, the world would again experience a moon-sized leap in a positive direction.
Unfortunately, we live in a time of great pessimism when it comes to leaders and the organizations they head up. In many cases, this pessimism is justified, but we do need to refocus our attention to rise above it. After all, the strength of a society is found in the individual leadership of its people.
As you prepare to take initiative, I encourage you to focus on two things:
- Look closely at your local community. Where you have questions, ask someone. Find out what needs your community has that are important to you. It may be education or children’s health or racial reconciliation. Take seriously the idea that you can make a difference. Do not let the pessimism, lack of confidence, or fear convince you not to care.
- Decide to do something to make a difference. Understand that most of the leadership we do is not world-changing in the moment, but when combined with thousands and millions of other people’s initiatives, impact can truly be world-changing.
Where will you find the confidence to ask questions and make a difference—especially in moments of great challenge and pressure?
Confidence comes as a gift from people who care for and love us, who believe in us, and who see within us something we don’t necessarily see in ourselves—our potential for impact. If we do not have those kinds of relationships, it may just be because we have not shown our confidence in other people.
Imagine a work team where part of your team’s discipline is the expression of both confidence and gratitude toward one another. Imagine a work environment where we tell one another that we appreciate the gifts and strengths they bring to work each day. Imagine the difference this would make. Here is the key:
We must nurture in others what we desire for ourselves.
If we want confidence in ourselves, we must show confidence in others. If we want affirmation, then we must affirm others. If we want understanding, then we must be understanding toward others. If we want love, we must love others. If we want accountability, then we must begin to hold others accountable.
Relationships of confidence, therefore, are mutual ones. We give and share. We receive and give thanks. We celebrate and we mourn. It is from this deep richness of life, in all its manifestations, that we discover the confidence to live through life’s transition points. We unearth the self-assurance to take leadership initiative and begin new ventures and to find in ourselves that which fear, cynicism, and self-doubt has suppressed: our ability to lead with confidence.