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Everyone is a Leader


I was recently approached by a client with a question; he is a high-level leader in a medium-sized organization, and the question was, “Why does everyone think that they can lead?”

When I asked for some clarity, he shared a story:

“The Operations Department is going through some restructuring. We communicated what we planned to do and I’m proud to say that we stuck to the plan. We even did a decent job of sharing why this change was important to the department and to the organization and we ensured that there would be no layoffs.”

I acknowledged his story and said, “That all sounds pretty well done to me. What happened?”

“Well,” he answered, “this is where almost half the staff in Operations, 23 people out of a department of about 50, came to either me or the HR department complaining about the change.”

When I asked if there were any trends or overarching themes to the complaints, he said, “There was. All 23 employees felt disrespected.”

I asked him to share examples of how the employees that came forward felt disrespected. “This is where they all agreed as well,” he said. “They all felt that they should have been more involved in the changes that were implemented. So you know what I did next?”

I did not know, and so I said, “No, but I am really curious to learn.”

He said, “I took the opportunity to approach another 10 or so of the employees in the group, individually and somewhat casually, to take a read on their attitudes about the changes and do you know what I learned?”

“Did they feel the same way as the 23 that came forward?” I asked.

“They did!” he replied.

I said, “Well, it sounds like everyone is a leader in your organization … or at least they have a desire to be one!”

“What? How so?” he asked, now thoroughly confused.

I explained that leadership is nothing more than influencing others to act with purpose. We often glorify leadership as something else, or we dilute it with over-suggesting that everyone is a leader. “It sounds to me that you have a department full of people who felt they were not able to influence change in this restructure, and yet they spoke up to be heard. Isn’t that leadership?” I asked.

“Well, isn’t that something!” my client said. “I keep asking for leaders and I didn’t realize I had them all along. What should I do now?”

“Connect with them,” I said. “Invite them into the change process by asking them what they see now and in the future. Keep the context on the change at hand but allow them to share some vision if they have it to share. You cannot promise anyone specific results, but you might be surprised to learn that they can accept that … that what they really want is a voice and an opportunity to be heard, to influence positive change in their work. After all, isn’t that what every leader does?”

There is a difference, of course, between complaining and leading. In this story, employees were not really complaining. They had ideas to share and were a little dissatisfied with the process, so they asked for something different – again, a hallmark of leadership.

As leadership coaches, we often work with clients to uncover their blind spots in leadership. Reframing complaints as valuable information is an advanced leadership skill requiring the leader to practice Emotional Agility:

“In (her book) Emotional Agility, Dr. Susan David cites four key concepts: showing up, stepping out, walking your why and moving on. These concepts emphasize the overall stance she takes in her book and are fundamental in creating emotional agility and adaptiveness:

  1. Showing Up:
    To face your thoughts or feelings is arguably the most difficult thing to do but is also the most imperative to facilitate positive change. David suggests being curious of them, accepting the difficult and positive thoughts equally in order to see them for what they are.
  1. Stepping Out:
    This concept is all about detachment, a detachment from your inner monologue, thoughts and feelings, in order to see that they are just emotions, not you. These emotions are not bound to you and are not an essential part of your being. To detach from them will result in you feeling far more autonomous over your actions and decisions.
  1. Walking Your Why:
    You need to retain core values, as these are a fundamental part of who you are. You shouldn’t give these up, but use them to dictate your actions. They provide you with your substance, your identity and roles, and as long as they aren’t negative values then no refinement is needed. Your values are your driving force.
  1. Moving On: 
    David’s next step of moving on involves making small, deliberate and purposeful tweaks to your mindset, motivation, and habits to align them with your core values. In doing so, she says you can make a significant difference in your life. You should never be complacent, but should always seek change that will further develop and improve your being.”

Where are opportunities for you and your leadership team to practice Emotional Agility?

How might reframing the “negative” to seek opportunities serve you and your teams?

Have a similar story? We’d love to hear from you!

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