What is leadership?

When I ask that question in a group, at least one person is always compelled to google it and/or someone answers it with an inspirational quote.

As a self-admitted “word nerd” I do love a good quote — but when I’m asking you a question, I’m more interested in your own response, in your own words. Your words give me insight about how you think and that insight is important to me.

So I’ve changed my approach a little and now I ask this:

Whose leadership has positively impacted your life? Think about that influential teacher, or coach, or supervisor who immediately comes to mind when you think “leader” and when you can see that face in your mind, ask yourself: “What did that person consistently do well?”

My next question is usually, “… and how did that make you feel?” That focus on feelings makes many people feel uncomfortable; vulnerability is uncomfortable. Yet, when we wait through the awkward pause and one brave soul speaks up? That’s where the magic happens.

When that first response makes it okay (for most people) to be vulnerable, we hear some powerful responses. We hear words like valued, appreciated, seen, and empowered. We hear words like happy, loved, respected, and joyful.

In those moments, we find an authentic answer to that very first question, “What is leadership?” — because we’re ready to focus on our potential to inspire those same feelings in others.