Food for thought

Some colleagues and I were at lunch one day last spring, discussing management and leadership. Just ahead of us in line at the counter was a guy just slightly younger than us. I assumed he was a college student or someone who just didn’t seem to have a job on that sunny day in May.

His hair was dyed and frazzled. His black t-shirt and jeans resembled those I saw at the rock concert I’d attended the week prior. But under his arm he had tucked a book that caught my interest: Developing The Leader Within You. The concept of leadership is something many of us chase around, looking to define and strive to achieve. You know the drill: read the books … practice the concepts. Attend the seminar, refresh the thinking, practice the concepts. Repeat.

I sat through such a seminar the day before this encounter. Yes, it was another great refresher on the subject, and I’m currently reminding myself just how much practice I need. During the seminar, though, the instructor asked us to identify the various people that we thought of as leaders at different points in our lives. My answer always seemed to be a parent, or a teacher, or a manager and so on. But when imagining leaders in our world, I have to admit a spiked-haired, blue-jean clad dude never came to mind.

Maybe it’s an unfortunate stereotype that I had. Maybe I’ve been reading too many books. But like everything else in life, it’s a lesson: In our society’s never-ending quest to define what a leader is and then neatly wrap that description around individuals, we lose sight of the fact that leaders are everywhere around us. They can be the managers hired for the very responsibility of leading, or the young guns we hired out of college to do entry-level work. They can be boisterous demanding managers with dictator-like demeanors. Or they can be quiet,
dedicated workers in the cubicles down the hall. We can find them just about anywhere.

“I love it,” this acquaintance said when I asked him what he thought of the book. “It’s awesome. I’ve read the hell out of it.” He pulled the
tattered book out of his armpit, flashed it at me, and yes, despite author and former pastor John C. Maxwell’s assumed distaste for the phrase, he indeed had read the hell out of it.

A short conversation revealed that he was a businessman — he owned both a marketing consultancy and a small service-oriented business. He was an entrepreneur hoping to grow his business. I was embarrassed to tell him I was just a middle manager.

He had left the restaurant by the time we were cleaning up to go back to work. He was already on the way back to his “office” as well — washing the windows of all the businesses in the area.

You never know where you’ll find your next leader. I found one over my lunch hour.

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