From Where I Sit: Rethink Leadership

by | Leadership, Thoughts

“Leadership is not an elitist club: It is an embracing

culture. It is not centered in control, event, or imposition.

It is grounded in communication, process, and inspiration.

Leadership has less to do with inserting what you do

not have, and more to do with releasing who you are!”

“India, we have a problem!” No, the voice over the phone was not addressing a specific location a city or a county. Nor was the concern a single event an out in space occurrence. Here, the voice was addressing a person named “India” my mother. And, the problem was another person her son.

My mother

Mother could recognize Dr. Archie Sharretts’ voice as easily as Dr. Sharretts could ascertain a trumpet’s true “C”. On numerous occasions, my mother and Dr. Sharretts discussed my progress in a band. Never before, however, had my band instructor called my mother at home at night!

“India, I have to do something. We have sixty members in the marching band. Fifty-nine appear to march in step with each other. And, then there is Stephen.”

I would learn that my mother was not too surprised at Dr. Sharretts’ discovery. She knew that coordination did not gift her son at birth, nor for one moment ever since. She would listen with empathy as Dr. Sharretts continued. “Everything I have tried to do up to this point has failed. I have talked with Stephen. He has tried and tried, I do believe that. I have asked for his input and I can tell he is perplexed. Accordingly, I am making a change.”

“I have decided to remove Stephen from our on the field, half time marching routine. Stephen will still be involved. You will not see him, but you will be able to hear him. Stephen will be our new, official, half-time announcer. I have talked with Stephen, and he understands.”


I was elated! And now, almost fifty-five years later, I reflect upon Dr. Sharretts’ conversation with my mother, and all that led up to that conversation. This was crucial to the direction of my career, and the development of my thinking about conflict resolution and team building. Some of my earliest recollections of “team” find their source within my experiences as a member of the Toccoa High School Purple Hurricane Marching Band. Accordingly, I dedicated my book, Zebra Dazzle, to my stunning band instructor, Dr. Archie Sharretts.

Confidence in music and passion for the band found, captivated, and transformed Dr. Sharretts into a team leader one who would chisel and sculpt individual strengths into dazzling symphonies. Almost every commendation imaginable has discovered him yet he remains undaunted, down to earth except of course, when he leads our community symphony. On those previous occasions, his whole body crescendos toward the sky, as he builds music and stunning performances through “team”.

What Dr. Sharretts could do with music, elicit harmony from discord and build symphony from more than a few “sour” notes, he could do with people. And thank goodness he still does.

Eight “L’s” of Leadership

When I think of the eight “L’s” of  Leadership that follow, I think of Dr. Sharretts:  Leap beyond the myth, Learn to think of yourself as a leader, Listen for your clues, Laugh at yourself, Look upon leadership as differing from management, Love to learn, Lean on your focus, and Live like a leader.

Leap beyond the myth. Myths mask truths for them, for you. Our error is to develop a definition and hold to that definition as if it was the single possible understanding of a particular word. Our challenge, in relationship to an understanding of leadership, is to move beyond a single, rigid, and biased interpretation of leadership, toward one that is more comprehensive and authentic. Management is not leadership.

Learn to think of yourself as a leader

Leadership skills are not “out there” or “over there” leadership skills are “within” within you! The thoughts you think determine whether or not you reach the outcomes you target. Do not think that “I may acquire leadership skills one day.” Think “I possess leadership skills now.” Veteran leaders as well must rethink the leadership issue. Leadership is not finding and inserting into yourself what you do not have. It is claiming and polishing what you do have. Leaders must never fail to factor perception into their leadership equation. How they perceive you are part of your leadership business.

You must ask:  “What do they see when they see me coming?”

Listen for your clues. Those who refuse to listen, refuse to lead. If leadership embraces influence as a foundation piece (and it does), then the relationship between influence and leadership sends you a plethora of clues: clues to retreat, and clues to lead. Look for, and listen to, the clues that are everywhere especially right in front of you.

Laugh at yourself. The stress of leadership mandates “lighter moments”.  Humor produces effective listening; listening becomes that which is enjoyed, not endured. Humor is an example of  “A strength has taken so far that it becomes problematic.” Respect the leadership core value that equals discernment. Refuse to allow teasing to equal torture.

Look upon leadership as differing from management. Respect leadership as being communication grounded, focusing on people. View management as being control grounded, focusing on the event. Lead like a leader, not a manager.

Love to learn

Honor learning as a choice, not chore; opportunity, not an obligation. Refine leadership so that it equals the servicing of your journey. This servicing is a perpetual process, not a single event. Enjoy the marriage of ideas to opportunities. Information minus implementation can equal irritation.

Lean on your focus. Pinpoint focus loss as Concentration Collapse, Determination Dwindling, and Thought Tyranny. Utilize the “What? Why? How?” model as a method for creating and sustaining focus. You will focus on something, why not the positive? Discover that focus can be enhanced by relaxation, not a mere frenzy of activity.

Live like a leader. Claim the inventory that equals the ownership of your life. Live each moment with a full force throttle for leading. Each day, give yourself the “influence test”.  Am I influencing in a manner that is consistent with my core values? Leadership is 24-7.

There is a leader within you.  March on.

Stephen is the best-selling author of 26 books, including What Do They See When They See You Coming? He has also written countless articles for a variety of publications and has produced multiple audio books and video programs. Stephen has appeared on PBS Television and XM Sirius Satellite Radio. He continues to hold one of the highest invite-back ratios in the speaking profession.