As I write this to you in early November, I wish you a happy Seasons Greetings!
No, I’m not talking about the upcoming winter holidays of Christmas, Haunauka, Solstice, Kwanzaa, or even Thanksgiving. I’m talking about this campaign and election time of year.
‘Tis the season for lawn signs, perpetual radio ads, and neighbors with differing views avoiding eye contact. It’s the time of year we choose who will lead our local and national communities.
But let’s talk about the leadership that has a more direct and daily effect on your life than any one person you cast a ballot for— your own.
You may have heard my motto and book title: Speakership is Leadership. I believe that when we speak to others, we have an opportunity and even a responsibility to look at how we are influencing, guiding, and, yes, even leading with our words.
If we stand in front of others with a cringing posture, mumbling sentences, incomprehensible ideas, and without the courage to hold boundaries, we have just led our listeners to a place of discomfort and disconnection. We led them there whether we intended to or not.
On the other hand, when we are grounded in our values, connected to our listeners, and have a firm vision of where we want to go with them, we can improve lives all around us. When we take the steering wheel of our speakership with two hands, we strengthen our society and ourselves.
Senator Mitt Romney wrote about this need for everyday leadership in The Atlantic in July 2022. “… leadership must come from fathers and mothers, teachers and nurses, priests and rabbis, businessmen and businesswomen, journalists and pundits. That will require us all to rise above ourselves—above our grievances and resentments—and grasp the mantle of leadership our country so badly needs.”
Do you recognize the places in your world where you are being asked to use your words to lead? Here are some examples.
Owning your current speakership opportunities. “The only thing that has changed so far is me.” —Client
Cary (not their real name) was the official leader of their group. But after the shake-up of the pandemic, they realized their team didn’t look or feel like they wanted it to.
People were uncertain about their roles, unconnected to resources they needed, and unfocused on a collective vision. The result was a topsy-turvy experience where some took more control than was appropriate for their place in the organization, and behind-the-scenes messages battled on.
As Cary explained the situation to me, they said, “I think we got here because I haven’t been using my voice. I haven’t been leading. It’s time to change that.” They realized that for years, they had just gone along with the situation, not taking the courageous step of naming the reality that things weren’t working.
They hadn’t spoken up. They hadn’t owned their speakership. They needed to act under the mantle of “leader,” create a guiding vision of what their organization could look like, and then speak about it. They were on the precipice of a tremendous amount of change in the organization and saw that the shift started with them.
Leading your larger community: “The TV station just called me. They’re coming over to interview me. What do I do?!” – Tasslyn Magnussen
In the spring of 2022, I was working on my book with my developmental editor Tasslyn when her speakership took a sudden turn. Previously, her professional life centered quietly in the world of books, editing, writing, and researching. Then she did something that changed everything. (Cue dramatic music…) She made a spreadsheet.
She had been concerned and curious about the many banned books across the country. She simply wanted to have a record of which books were banned and where. So she revved up the engine of Excel, did some research, and started entering data. She opened it up to the public, so she wasn’t alone in entering data or viewing the numbers.
Four months later, it turned out that her curiosity side project was the most extensive list of banned books in the country. That, plus her Ph.D. in history, meant that many media companies called on her to get official statements from “Dr. Magnussen.”
She wasn’t given a new title, or a raise, or a budget, or employees to manage. Media sources asked her to use her voice to share her knowledge publicly and speak up about a topic that was important to her. They asked her to share her vision of why books were essential to children. There was an audience she had never met that asked to hear her ideas.
Leading your immediate community: “You guys, here’s what we need to do next.” —Rachel Preslar
A few years ago, my father passed away rather suddenly. We thought we were prepared since he was a chronic record keeper. Decades earlier, he created “The Binder.” As children, we listened to him tell us where this collection of legal and financial information was before every single business trip. (Simultaneously comforting and unnerving.) Then the time came to actually use The Binder. But it wasn’t as simple as opening the binder and following the instructions. My sister took up the job of leading us through the labyrinth.
It wasn’t a path she was particularly excited about or had vast experience in. Still, she was geographically closest to our dad’s records, home, and advisors. She wasn’t granted an official family title or a new salary. She wasn’t sure about the new pool of legal and financial terms she was immersed in. She had never done anything quite like this before. But she stepped up. She used her voice.
She asked questions. She made calls to experts and had conversations with mentors. She shared her vision that our close sibling relationships were the most important thing to her. She told us how she wanted those relationships to feel even more trusting and connected when this was all done.
No, this loving family dynamic isn’t possible for everyone after losing a parent. Yes, we all still owe her a cake, a medal, and a pony for taking this on. But that’s not the point. The point is that she saw where our community needed her, and she said yes. Even though the path was unclear and she felt inexperienced, she did have a vision of where she wanted us all to end up. She led us with her words.
Whatever your next speakership step looks like, it’s likely an uncomfortable one. Growth always is. New skills are awkward. Naming what is happening takes courage.
As Joanne Ciulla, director of the Institute for Ethical Leadership, said, “Leadership is not a person or a position. It is a complex moral relationship between people based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and a shared vision of the good.”
What is your vision of “the good,” and how are you sharing it?