Recently my 8 year old nephew walked up to me as we were watching a debate on television. He wanted to know the meaning of leader. These days he is beginning to use the dictionary and I thought it would be a perfect occasion to encourage him to help make it a habit. So, we decided to ask the dictionary. The dictionary told us the following:

Leader - dictionary meaning - Seema Joshi
After some more Q&A he mapped these to the fastest car in his Cars Toon collection, to the top star from WWF and captain of his favorite football team. I was wrong in thinking we were done with the exercise. My nephew is also quite curious about ages and has age mappings to people and things. So, his next question was how old do I need to be to become a leader? I told him there was no age to get started and told him about leadership and realized it was time to go back to the dictionary. Leadership was explained as below.

Leadership - dictionary meaning - Seema Joshi
He translated this into an interesting interpretation. He said, “If I do my homework on time, obey my teacher’s instructions, offer help to my classmates and teacher, and tidy my study table before I am asked to, will you give me a golden star for leadership?” I said, “Of course.” Next he went on, “Do you think my teacher could also make me the monitor?” I nodded smilingly as he was looking at both – practicing leadership and being a leader. This made me think how many of us grown-ups often end up looking at leadership only in a top-down format and have ignored or unlearnt the important self-leadership lesson. We seek and follow effective leaders which is important. Being a leader means leading a group from the front, walking the talk and taking others along to achieve planned goals. In every aspect—work or otherwise, this is no doubt important. And this too needs leadership. Infact effective leaders practice a lot of leadership. But how many of us come out of comfort zones to practice some self-leadership and initiative ourselves. We seem to get lost in everydayness. Don’t we have an opportunity to exhibit and use leadership in a wide variety of ways – right from everyday activities, to projects to larger goals.

Self-leadership - Seema Joshi

Self-leadership – Seema Joshi

We can take the initiative and act upon things and it is not as difficult a path as it may seem. In a simplistic way, self-leadership consists of four building blocks – Passion, Dream, Envisage and Act. It almost forms a continuum that we can apply and reapply—be it a task – personal or work task; volunteering; or any larger responsibility. And if we practice this enough, it need not stop at self. It is important to note that in addition to the popular top-down format of leadership and following initiative we seem to practice well, we can extend this to other scenarios as well. These can be practiced independently or in an inter-linked manner. Because after-all leadership is action not position – in terms of age, of place or co-ordinates. You can start with yourself and the process continues. And this can be quite powerful as the quote signifies “Leadership: Each of us can serve as a leader. And one leader creates another and another, ad infinitum; just as one candle’s flame lights another and another, until the once-impenetrable darkness has turned to brilliant light.” When this combines with drive of effective leaders in an organization, the benefits can be enormous.Leadership application scenarios - Seema JoshiWhile it sometime seems uncommon to find this being practiced, If we look carefully, we can find ample examples and motivation for this around us. Over the span of my career, a number of such examples have stuck with me. One of the sales leaders I worked with was a perfect example of walking the talk with taking the lead and providing support wherever needed. However, he created an environment where each of us in his team were expected to practice self-leadership. When I look back, I think that was definitely amongst one of the more productive teams I have been part of. Another example is of a leader at an organisation I worked with where his call for action was “ “bias for action”. He was a great proponent of this, which I think is a great form of self-leadership! Another example relates to a larger team. I was once invited to their offsite and I was extremely impressed to see both an effective leader and leadership amongst the team in action together. Part of the agenda was for everyone in the team to go over status of things and plan for improvements. I was very impressed to see the positive energy in the room, the objectivity in discussions as a candid way to find a better way forward (and that being the only point of focus without being distracted)—a lot of leadership in action—in all forms—self leadership, lateral leadership, bottom-up leadership and top-down leadership. As a leader of the group not only did the group head provide the team with a platform and occasion to participate freely for a better outcome, but also importantly lead the group whenever the need arose… the walking the talk of a true leader in action. In essence, the biggest step in this journey is getting started. As renowned Chinese philosopher Confucius says, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand”.

We can do this by REWARDing ourselves.

R – Recognize you can take the lead

E – Empower others, feel empowered yourself

W – Will to lead…everyday

A – Attitude, Attain, Align

R – Raise and foster initiative

D – Do it, Just do it – that is the single-most effective way to get started

And this will go a long way. I’d like you end this with a call for action with the famous quote, “Do something for yourself today that your future will thank you for”. 

~ Seema Joshi