Leaders Don't Wait, They InitiateLast month’s issue featured an exchange I had with a reader on Dealing with Stupid Busy Leadership Teams Overloading Their Organization. I wrote that strong leaders like George who refuse to be victimized by undisciplined senior leaders have three choices.

Paul, “a first level manager,” e-mailed to tell me about a “fourth option I’ve used at a large, bureaucratic organization with some positive results.” He explains, “I started a grassroots effort to change the culture. A team of high powered technical folks I pulled together decided to start teaching others about positive psychology (click here for more on this new field). We do this on our own time and developed the materials ourselves, so the message fits the organization. The idea is to improve morale by improving the mood of many individuals, as opposed to waiting for a great leader to change the organization. It’s starting to work, at least a little. We’ve run ten classes and taught over 200 people, and there’s a waiting list for the next class. Unfortunately, 200 people are only a couple percent of the company’s total population, and sometimes it feels like we’re tilting at windmills. That said, we’ve been at it for about three years, lots of people tell others to take the class, and we’re starting to engage the company leadership to leverage what we’ve done. It’s got real momentum.”

Paul provides a great example of leadership as an action, not a position. Leadership is what we do, not who we are. All too many people in leadership roles don’t act like leaders. And there are many people who haven’t been given formal leadership authority but are very strong leaders. We all need to be leaders — in our personal lives or taking a leading role in our family, communities, profession, relationships, or workplace.

It’s all too easy to be like the thirty-eight-year-old man who was at his parent’s home for Sunday dinner. He mournfully turned the discussion to his many problems, “I’ve just left my third failed marriage, I can’t hold onto a job, I’m in debt up to my ears and will have to declare personal bankruptcy,” he complained bitterly. “Where did you go wrong?”

Leaders don’t wait, they initiate. Leading ourselves and others up the leadership stairs is the route to better health, happiness, and success. We need “leaderful” teams and organizations to move everyone upward to ever higher performance and results. “I/we are going to do something” is the language of success. “Something must be done” is the language of failure.

The action of leading — seeing possibilities, encouraging and supporting, reframing, and overcoming helplessness with hopefulness — needs to be broadly shared by everyone everywhere regardless of formal roles or positions.

Tomorrow we publish my February blog posts in the March issue of The Leader Letter. This issue looks at a few angles of leadership. Passion and love are key elements of leadership. Strong leaders are highly passionate about their work and inspire others around him or her with a deeper sense of meaning and purpose.

Strong leaders bring life to the hackneyed phrases of “walk the talk” and “lead by example.” Their actions do all the talking. And strong leaders balance efficiency and effectiveness. Processes and systems are vital. But unless the whole organization is fully automated and has no people in it, leadership is a critical catalyst that boosts or blocks process, systems, and technology.

An ancient Chinese proverb teaches that “The person who waits for a roast duck to fly into their mouth must wait a very long time.” Don’t wait; initiate.