When small means big!

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In any discussion on leadership one tends to focus on the big things that make good leaders or leadership. In reality it is the small everyday things that show the leader’s true mettle and can be the biggest challenges. So what are the key everyday leadership traits we encounter or need to develop? Nitasha Devasar, managing director, Taylor & Francis India, discusses these traits. In any discussion on leadership one tends to focus on the big things that make good leaders or leadership. In reality it is the small everyday things that show the leader’s true mettle and can be the biggest challenges. When you are in a position where you have to ‘live’ the leadership work life and not just shine on a few discrete occasions, it is the little things that can make a difference. So what are the key everyday leadership traits we encounter or need to develop? Here are a few that have consistently crossed my path: Leading by example or ‘walking the talk’ is a core managerial trait that extends into leadership roles. This not always easy to do on a continuous basis and sometimes it has seemingly little impact. Nevertheless, what you do and how you act ‘speaks’ volumes. So striving on, is the only path open to a leader. Awareness that both non-verbal and informal messaging is as critical as formal modes of communication is important for every day leadership. Be aware that people will derive messages from your words or actions in all settings, and you can’t always predict what these messages are. There is a robust literature on C IQ or Conversation IQ, like EQ, which is worth exploring in this context as it provides useful tips on using conversation as an effective leadership tool.

Nitasha DevasarWhen you are in a leadership role people tend to be conscious of your moves/ moods. Therefore, living with continuous, though often unconscious, scrutiny is a regular part of everyday leadership. This is, at least most of the time, a sort of default position rather than a conscious monitoring and it comes with the turf. Notice how watchful you get next time you are in the vicinity of someone you consider to be in a leadership position and you will know what I mean. I remember a personal assistant I had for a long time sharing one of the persistently irritating parts of his job during his retirement party: it was the routine query, ‘how is the bosses’ mood today?’ and the assumption that he was conscious of or privy to this information. This story has stayed with me because it gave me an insight on how my everyday moods impacted my teams’ interactions with me.

One disconcerting part of everyday leadership is the expectations people have from you. These arise from their perception of you and your position and can sometimes be extreme: either very high, requiring superhuman abilities; or really low, based on an interpretation of past events. By being aware of the impact of these everyday behaviours leaders can temper and channelise expectations without causing disappointment.

Another perceptions leaders are often dogged with, especially when they head organisations, is the belief that they have control over most outcomes within the organisation. Or at least have more control than most people. This is a tough belief to tackle and communication is the key: by putting issues/ situations in a wider, organisational or even industry, context, leaders can provide a perspective for colleagues to understand constraints and challenges, without being perceived as weak or ineffective.

As with all everyday things, one can and does fail many a time. This is not always a bad thing as it makes visible the human behind the leader. While practicing everyday leadership can be tough, being consistent helps. Consistent behaviour can balance perceptions and temper expectations especially if accompanied by equally consistent efforts at communication.

Everyday leadership is simply about everyday ways of making a difference. The smallest things can and often do impact peoples work life in significant ways. The other day a young editor who had worked with me for several years, till I left to head another organisation, got in touch with me. He was moving to a bigger job opportunity and wanted to meet with me before he shifted. Over a cup of coffee and reminiscences he told me he had a file made up of my notes and comments written to him as feedback on his work, reports, etc. over the years.

He was carrying them with him to his new job and had often used them to train his junior editors. It was quite astounding, and honestly, a bit scary too, to know he had preserved my scribbles for so many years and considered them important enough to carry with him to his new work place. My ‘everyday’ behaviour had impacted his work and life as a manager and continues to do so: it was a profoundly humbling realisation! Leadership is turning out to be a never ending learning experience. So one needs to garner all the experiences one can. By being aware of the impact of common place daily actions that comprise everyday leadership a leader can I believe add significant tools to her repertoire. As someone once said, ’Leadership is not a position or title, it is action and example.’ Everyday leadership exemplifies this beautifully.


Everyday leadership impacts:

  • Actions and behaviour ‘speak’ volumes.
  • Non-verbal and informal messaging can be critical.
  • Learning to live in the spotlight is a given.
  • Manage expectations through effective communication.
  • Remember that failure is part of the deal.
  • Consistent behaviour and consistent communication help.

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