I’m en route to one of my favorite cities to visit: Istanbul. Can’t wait to deliver my leadership seminar to businesspeople on Thursday and to do book signings and media in both Istanbul and Ankara after that. So grateful to be able to meet people from our Turkish community of Leaders Without Title and human beings devoted to shining in the world. Thank you for your amazing support.
Before boarding the plane, I went through JFK airport in New York. A security guard at a checkpoint made me stop. Not because I had change in my pocket or my Blackberry in my jacket. No, he made me stop through the sheer power of his positive attitude. He smiled at everyone he met. He was outrageously well-mannered. And he left people better than he found them.
Here’s the thing: he wasn’t a leader with some big title. He wasn’t head of security or even a supervisor. And – just like most people in this world of work we find ourselves within – he had more to do than was reasonable. Yet, he gave his best and showed up fully. Shared his enthusiasm and excellence in every way that he could. Tried to be extraordinary within the circle of his control. Rather than saying he’d lead – and be great – when he got promoted or was given his ideal job-he led where he was planted. And that makes this unknown security guard truly great.
All too often, we wait until ideal conditions appear before we show up at our best. We promise to display more initiative once we get the promotion, become a superb teammate once we get the raise and do world-class work once we receive the applause. But true leadership is about doing your absolute best under imperfect conditions. And leading where you are planted. An example.
On my last speaking tour, the final event was in Johannesburg. Post-workshop, our CEO and myself went out for a meal in Nelson Mandela Square. The sun was shining, the food was pretty good, the service was fine. But it was the awesome display of one distinct Leader Without a Title that still resonates in my mind. And that I need to tell you about.
As I walked into the washroom, I was greeted by a young man with a 1000 watt smile. His job was clearly to keep the place clean. Some would call him a janitor. But to me, he viewed himself as an inventor… innovating and iterating within his sphere of responsibility.
“Welcome to my office,” he spoke, with a sparkle in his eyes. “It’s nice to have you visit.” His uniform was impeccable. His counters were immaculate. And his manners, superb. He could have made excuses to deny his enthusiasm. Could have complained about the base position, the lack of authority, the limited power. But he didn’t.
Instead, he assumed his power-to influence all those he met, to impact others by his excellent example, and to inspire all by transcending his conditions. This young man did his work like Rembrandt painted, Beckham bends the ball, like Colombus explored.
My true point? No job is just a job, unless it’s viewed as just a job. All work is a platform to express creative potential, offer value and make a unique contribution. But we each face a choice each day as we walk out into the world: we can play a victim or we can step up to leadership. And in this messy, disrupted world we now work within, leadership at every level has become the single best way to win.
Keep Leading Without A Title.