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Leadership In Action

Updated: Jun 17, 2022

Tucker Miller | President and Founder of Day 6 Leadership, LLC

A Fair Lesson in Leadership

It was at the Northwest Montana State Fair in Kalispell, Montana, that I witnessed one of the most compelling illustrations of leadership in action. But first . . .

What Defines A Leader?

Leaders are identified most simply by the presence of followers. In other words, are there people willing to work to achieve results that align with the vision of the person in charge? Team members require more than tenure, rank, or position to inspire their confidence. They often seek to be seen, heard, understood, cared about. And when leaders fail to show empathy and concern, team members become disengaged or resistant. These festering feelings of discontent and distrust undermine the very essence of leadership.

Resilient Leaders are Flexible and Self-Aware.

  • How do leaders re-engage team members or rebuild trust when this happens?

  • What do leaders do to help team members overcome resistance and fear?

  • What do leaders do to ease power struggles and insecurities?

Questions like these require that we dig deeper into the meaning of leadership. In my work, I've asked hundreds of executives and managers to define leadership. Most often they respond euphemistically, using terms like honest, inspiring, visionary. It is essential to understand though merely honorable characteristics do not a leader make.

Leadership is the product of two things: what leaders do and what they don't do. Good or bad, it’s actions, not the person or title, that define leadership.

Lessons in Leadership Abound.

Because life experience is one of our best teachers, we do well to reflect on leaders we admire and want to emulate. This process reveals positive behaviors and, in contrast, often also conjures images of behaviors to avoid as we recall examples of when leaders have been publicly critical, unfair, overbearing, or the like.

Meanwhile, Back in KalispelL . . .

It was time for the 4H project horses to be led into the judging ring. A teenage girl who had no doubt worked for months to arrive at this moment with her horse was struggling to bring her mare out of its stall. Sweat glistened across the girl’s forehead and her feet kept sliding across the straw-covered floor of the barn, as she pulled on the reins to coax the mare out of the stall. No amount of physical might was sufficient to persuade her mare to budge. The more the girl pulled, the more the mare seemed determined not to budge. After many months of preparation for this moment, the two of them were at a stand-off.

Initially seeming frustrated, the announcements to proceed to the judging ring prompted the girl to urgently pull and yank. The mare began to back out of her stall but any hope for progress was quickly dashed as the mare started to rear up. The situation was escalating – a skittish horse amid a crowd of fair-goers. Nearing panic, the girl turned and called out over her shoulder to a young man pitching hay two stalls away, “What do I do?” Her desperation was compelling, betraying a sense of urgency with the growing threat of losing control of her mare. Without looking up,

“You know what to do,” he said.

SO, I kept My Eyes on the Girl --
And Was Amazed at What Happened Next.

She stopped pulling. She then took a breath, relaxed her stance, and, with the lead still in her hand, she let it go slack and she walked slowly toward the horse. Standing so close, with only a sliver of light between them, I could see her start to talk quietly to the horse.

I don’t know what she said; I don’t know what the mare heard. But at that moment, I know what I saw: empathy, patience, kindness, and confidence. And the horse settled. In an instant, they were transformed from adversaries to partners and together made their way to the ring.

I know what I saw: empathy, patience, kindness, and confidence. In a word: Leadership.

Leadership is All About What We Do When We Find Ourselves With the Reins in Our Hands.

Leadership is about what we do when we find ourselves in the corner office or assigned to a team.

Leaders understand that their actions define their legacy; humility and service engage others.

As you think about your role as a leader,

I Offer These Questions FOR YOU to Consider:

  • How willing are you to drop our need to control others and meet them where they are?

  • When do you demonstrate that you are willing to walk alongside others instead of in front of them?

  • In what ways do you manage your emotions and set aside your need to be right about how others react?

  • Are you willing to listen deeply, quietly?

  • Are you flexible and willing to change course when things aren’t working?

  • When you need help, are you willing to ask for it without expecting to be rescued?

  • How willing are you to do the things that we expect of others?

Effective Leadership requires More Than Common Sense.

These questions tap into our "horse-sense" or common sense -- much of which is all too uncommon but represents a category of skills that can be learned and practiced. This comes with experience, experimentation, and feedback. The first step, though, is awareness. I encourage you to take some time to consider these questions and share them with your team.

Day 6 Leadership, LLC is a consulting and coaching company specializing in helping to prepare women leaders for expanded responsibility, influence, and impact.

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