The Opposite of Leader

Sometimes, a description of what something is not helps to also describe what it is.

This past week, we had another Lead Change Tulsa breakfast dialogue and the topic was Effectively Leading Diverse Organizations. Over 40 people, many new to Lead Change, joined us for this discussion.

Teri Aulph (@TeriAulph) generally enlists the panelists and we allow each to open the dialogue. Chery Gegelman (@GianaConsulting) moderates and facilitates with grace and involves everyone in the room to the extent they're comfortable. Their skill at managing these events enables me to relax and think.

This day, I chose to study the people because the group was more different from me than any other breakfast discussion we've had. The topic of diversity almost by itself brings out a more diverse crowd. The stories and the ideas shared opened my mind and challenged my thoughts.

What makes a leader? What path were these people on to develop as leaders?

"Diversity is simply hearing every voice." Teri Aulph

As a committed contrarian, I was reminded of ideas I've shared before about followers and leaders; about acting out roles vs. who we really are (character); about positional authority vs. character-based authority.

In some way, everyone in the room was a leader, and yet everyone enlisted to both share and learn. Everyone looked to grow and help others grow, stretch and help others stretch. We all instinctively knew that simply being better made our community a little better, but that wasn't enough.

The stories of many of the panelists and of the attendees were about times when their opinions didn't matter, and when they felt all alone or when they had been pre-judged and shut out. Then I thought about a book I've recently read titled Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen. One chapter in the book is about luck and the authors identify that a key distinguishing factor between the great companies and the not-so-great companies is their "return on luck or ROL". Great organizations "got what I would describe as a better return on luck…" both good luck and bad luck.

Every person in the room came from a less-than-ideal circumstance. But every person in the room chose their response to their circumstances, their heritage, their surroundings and the behavior of others. Every person in the room chose to be a leader and lead themselves and their reaction to each situation. They could have chosen the mindset and resignation of victim, but instead, chose to take responsibility for their attitude and their actions. They led themselves into a different mindset, chose a non-standard response, and made a positive difference!

Victim is my new word to describe the opposite of leader.  No one likes being a victim, but I catch myself blaming others for my circumstances and my position and at that moment I become a victim.  When I remember I can always chose my attitude and my reaction, I become a leader, at least of my self.

This group of people chose not to be victims. I'm better for simply spending 90 minutes in their presence appreciating their stories and believing I have the power to choose.

Today, will you be a victim or will you take the lead?  When do you catch yourself withdrawing from the role of "leader?"  What would you call that if not "victim?"  What other words might you use to describe the opposite of "leader?"

Photo © JRB -

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