Leadership Happens Through Action and Behavior

By: Jim Bruce
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Today’s Tuesday Reading “Leadership Happens Through Action and Behavior” first appeared as a Weekly Reflection for the University of Minnesota Advanced Leaders Program.  It’s author, Chris Grantham is Chief of Staff to the Vice President and CIO at the University.

Many of you know I have a 19-month-old daughter, Iris, whom I adore absolutely and will talk about incessantly if you let me.

My reflection on leadership this week grows out of the unique relationship Iris has with her grandmother / my mother-in-law.  Iris's grandmother, Jerilyn, suffers from a rare form of Alzheimer's known as posterior cortical atrophy (PCA).  Because of her PCA, Jerilyn can't easily make connections between words, concepts, and physical objects.  Imagine being blind, but also not being able to use some of your compensating senses because your brain can't process that the thing in your hand is a stair railing or a doorknob or your family member's hand trying to guide you.  Helping Jerilyn walk is always a bit of a battle: we push, she pulls.  We pull, she pulls harder, usually in the opposite direction.

But Iris's experience is completely different, and totally blows me away.  Almost since the day she could walk, Iris has been able to get Jerilyn to do things and go places that none  the rest of us have managed.  Iris grabs her Grandma's finger, gives a tug, and they're off to the races.  The relative ease (and speed) with which Iris can get Jerilyn where she needs to go is just short of inexplicable.

Three thoughts emerge from this for me:

  • Leadership happens through action and behavior, not roles, positions, or titles.  Sometimes even a toddler can make a meaningful impact where others have failed.
  • There is nothing wrong with a healthy dose of ignorance or even naivety about what is and is not possible.  Seek out and encourage new or outside perspectives on a problem. Iris certainly didn't get the memo that Grandma had lost the ability to see well enough to walk... and she was right.
  • If you're open to the idea that leadership can come from unexpected places to solve intractable problems, sometimes all you need to do is get out of the way.

I have three take-aways from Chris’ essay:  No matter who you are, lead from where you are.  You don’t have to know the answer.  Step aside, be willing to let someone else take the lead.  Powerful stuff! 

Have a tremendous week.   .   .  .    jim

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