Questioning and defining leadership

Questioning and defining leadership

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what leadership means, and why it matters. In the context of current events, an idea that I picked up from the Jesuits strikes a chord: loosely, ‘we are all leaders, leading all the time, either poorly or well’. If that’s true, what does that mean for how we show up: in the public sphere and in our private lives? What’s the impact we’re having within our organizations, our communities, and our families?

These are bewildering and paradoxical times. As I look at the biggest picture, I’m simultaneously horrified and hopeful. I am heartbroken and numb from the hatred and violence that is happening domestically and globally. At the same time, I’m inspired by the activists, artists, and regular folks—locally and around the world—who are committed to equity, healing, and a vision of a more just and humane future.

As we face the disorienting and troubling events of recent days and weeks, I keep coming back to something Cornell West said:

“We do not lead by calling ourselves leaders; we lead by raising our questions and loving others in such a way that we keep track of our shared humanity.” ~ Dr. Cornell West

There may not be a clear path forward. At the same time, I have deep faith in human kindness, resilience, and what’s possible when we work together. And here’s what I keep coming back to. We face some big choices about what’s ahead. We need to ask ourselves important questions about who we want to be and what we want to stand for, individually and collectively. What would it mean if we really kept track of our shared humanity?

We need to be courageous enough to listen deeply, especially to those whose voices are often marginalized or oppressed, and to those whose life experiences have been really different from our own. This is a time for asking hard questions and for answering them, even when—maybe especially when—the answers are uncomfortable. We need to treat each other with genuine curiosity and compassion. We need to recognize that we’re all in it together. This is a time for reflection, connection, and for actions that are centered on our shared humanity. This is a time to be courageous about the kind of world we want to create, and creative about how to build the bridges that are needed to move in that direction.

What would it look like if we cared about the fate of each other’s children as if they were our own?

That’s leadership. That’s love.

It’s not a magic formula, but it feels like a solid start.

YOUR TURN: One thing I know for sure is that we’re in it together, and I’d love to hear your thoughts:

  • What would change if we actively looked for our shared humanity, and we genuinely listened to each other’s stories and struggles?
  • What do you want to take a stand for in the name of our shared humanity? And what will that look like in action?
  • What do you so that you can show up as your most courageous, compassionate self?

Please share your comments below.


Seattle leaders, entrepreneurs, and instigators: Interested in working together?  We’d love to hear from you!

Gauge Leadership Lab starts on 2/10, early-bird pricing thru 1/27. This 12-week program will bring together small groups of resourceful leaders with a range of views and experiences. The common thread is insightful, committed, and generous people who are looking to deepen their self-awareness, expand their leadership capacity, and strengthen their network. Sound like you or someone you know?  We’d love to chat.

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