Leading By Not Leading?

I am a member of a large non-profit organization, have been for a number of years.  For much of that time, I’ve held an active position within the entity.  At the moment, I don’t have a role but I do still attend our regular business meetings and participate in discussions where I think I may have something to contribute.

Currently, there are a few vacancies on the operating committee.  They are all positions that I have held in the past, a couple of them for more than one term.  I debated letting my name stand for one of them, just in an interim capacity until the fall when elections take place for the new 2-year cycles.  Many of the other members who attend our meetings know of my CV within the organization and at the risk of sounding vain, I suspect some were assuming I would take on one of the roles.  I could do it – I certainly know how to, the group didn’t fall apart when I held the positions before, and I have the time to take on the commitment.  Bonus points:  nobody ever threw a gavel at me.

Driving to the meeting last night, I had to make my decision …

Would I take on a leadership role or would I not?

The agenda moves along nicely and we arrive at the vacancies action item.  I felt some assuming eyes on me.  I heard the anticipatory deep breaths as precursors to the sighs of relief that yes, someone (me) was taking on the role.  Ritual is to first ask if anyone wants to volunteer for a position – nobody said anything.  Then a call for nominations is done – somebody spoke.  They nominated me.  Almost feeling guilty, I looked at the table instead of my nominator or the Chair and responded “I decline with thanks”.

My drive to the meeting was a time of reflection – on myself, the organization, and leadership in general.  I made my decision to decline the nomination because I believe that sometimes leadership happens when a leader doesn’t lead:

1.  I saw within the group talent, lots of it, in people who had yet to hold a position on the committee.  I saw opportunities for them to grow, to be of service, and maybe learn a new talent or skill.

2.  Letting others take ownership, accountability, and responsibility for tasks, triumphs, and tribulations is essential to democratic leadership, which for most organizations is the most effective style.  It certainly is in our organization.

3.  Highly respected leaders practice the art of meditation, spending time in quiet thought.  Some on their living room floor, others on a walk in the woods, and what may seem like an oxymoron, participatory leaders do it right while sitting at the board table.  Saying it best by saying nothing at all.

4.  Not doing something just because one is able to allows for the empowerment of peers, staff, and other leaders.  It strengthens even the weakest link so the chain becomes fortified.


The video above is from TheLeaderInMeVideos channel on YouTube.  It is the channel of The Leader In Me, a school transformation process teaching 21st century leadership skills to children to create a culture of student empowerment.  The Leader In Me is also a book co-authored by 4 leadership gurus in their own right, one of which is Dr. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People.

I believe we all are students, regardless of our age or the institutions in which we learn.  Last night, I sat with other students sitting at the table and in the peanut gallery.  I saw the opportunity for all of us to develop the “leaders in we” and embrace the habit young children across the globe are learning:  Habit 6 – Synergize … together is better.  I hope I led by not leading, giving my fellow members the chance to lead instead.  I guess I’ll find out at next month’s business meeting.

4 thoughts on “Leading By Not Leading?

  1. My son’s school uses The Leader in Me program. It’s fabulous (especially when he remembers to apply the habits to everyday life). And I agree about you doing the right thing and giving someone else a chance… you can always advise/help from the sidelines. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s