What Is Leadership?

I just returned this morning from delivering three, one-day Leadership Development workshops.  I love the workshop, and I really enjoy my time working with others as they find an answer to the question,  What is Leadership? The intent is to increase awareness of how leadership is reflected in what they do at work.  If I ever have doubts about whether I’m doing the kind of work I’m meant to do, those doubts vanish following one of these sessions.  I have a knack for seeing where participants are and helping them find the next step they want to take.  I’m always reminded that leadership is staying present to what is needed in any given moment and how to use what gifts we each have to offer.  

While leaders generally are thought to influence others to move in a direction or toward a goal, I also believe a part of cultivating our leadership is being aware of our own special talents and using them as we are called to do so.  Sometimes I forget that every moment is an opportunity to lead.  This became glaringly obvious to me today on my flight home.  I’d like to think I would act in the same way on any given day, and not just because I had been immersed in several days of leadership work.  But there is no way to know for sure.  Sometimes I’m not present to what is happening around me when I am focused on my own problems, or when I’m too tired or overwhelmed and choose to ignore a signal and avoid involvement.  Today there was no way around using whatever resources I had to offer.  I became acutely aware the moment I sat down next to Chris on the plane.

I intended to catch a nap on the flight home, as I had been on the go for the last several days and had to be at the airport by 6:30 a.m.  After I settled into my seat, I noticed a woman who was in her mid- to late thirties next to me.  She was reading a daily devotional and seemed to be praying or in a deeply contemplative state.  I have to admit I looked over and got a bit snoopy, as I tried to see what she was reading.  It had something to do with healing generational family issues.  I began reading my own book and left her to her personal reflections until about half way through the flight.  At that point she seemed on to lighter things, as I noticed she was completing a word puzzle, so I asked her if she was from Denver or just going to visit.  

Chris told me she was on her way to visit her father who had been sick and who she had not seen in over 10 years.   I asked a few questions, and she shared the distance of their relationship.  I sensed her nervousness over what lay ahead.  She had not traveled much, and had contemplated taking the bus to save money.  When she told me her father didn’t have a cell phone and she wondered if he would meet her at the gate when she got off the plane, I knew I would need to offer what support I could.  

“If you don’t mind walking with me to the baggage claim area, I can show you where your dad is likely to meet you,” I offered.  Her body visibly relaxed and she said she would accept my kind offer of help.    She was gracious in a way that is typical of those from the south.  She acted like it was a big deal, and I felt like it was barely an offer of help since I was going that way regardless.  I felt a little embarrassed by her gratitude.

We landed a little early, at the farthest gate.  We began our journey to baggage claim together, joking that at least we would get our exercise for the day.  It felt comfortable and a little serious at the same time.  I could tell she was apprehensive about what was waiting for her at the end of our trek.  I tried to relax her by giving her advice for her return trip on Sunday.  When we got off the train at the main terminal, her father’s “wife or whatever” was waiting and calling out her name, trying to connect with someone she had never met.  I watched the awkwardness of their first meeting and said a quick goodbye before heading off to retrieve my bag.  At baggage claim I watched them join a man in a wheel chair.  He was frail and looked visibly moved by his first look at his daughter in over 10 years.  Chris looked a little uncomfortable but it looked as if she was on solid ground.  The reunion seemed complete.

I headed out to the curb to wait for my ride.  Within a few minutes my husband pulled up and we put my bags in the trunk.  As I opened the car door I heard my name being called out and as I turned there was Chris moving quickly toward me, arms open wide.  She embraced me and whispered in my ear, “thanks for being there when I needed you,” and off she went to spend time reconnecting with her father.  

I’m reminded of how often there are strangers in our midst that we pass by without recognizing them for who they are: another weary traveler on the journey of life.  I spend a lot of time wondering about the big ways that I’m intended to serve in the world, getting all wound up in the question, “what is my work to do?”

Today I’m reminded to pay attention to the small ways I can offer the gifts I have to give.  Who’s to say what “big” is, after all.

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Deb Siverson

Deb Siverson is passionate about helping organizations drive results through connected and transparent conversations in the workplace. She is the author of the book, "The Cycle of Transformation: igniting organizational change through the leader coach." Deb's expertise includes organizational performance consulting, design and delivery of leadership development programs, customized team development, and individual and systems coaching. Deb holds a BS in Business from Regis University and an MS in Organizational Leadership from University of Colorado-Boulder. She serves on the board of the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce.

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