If you have to say you’re in charge, you’re probably not.  -Tammy Duvanel Unruh

I hated choosing teams during recess.  The teacher would choose either the two most popular kids to be the “captains” or, in an occasional move of gratuitous justice, would chose two of the biggest nerds. Although I hated this system, it did assure me I got to be captain every once in a while.  I didn’t mind that charity had chosen me; I was Captain and, by golly, I controlled the fate of the other minions waiting to be picked. It was good to be King.

I was taught that leadership is a position and that position has a Grand Poobah-like title; Captain, President, Chairman, or Chief. The janitor is not a leader unless, of course, he is the “Head Janitor,” and has his own minions to dominate.

However, some time spent recently in some leadership sessions af the Kansas Leadership Center (KLC) has caused me to re-think this. The KLC believes that everyone can exercise leadership at anytime and anywhere.

They believe this because they make a difference between a position (authority) and leadership (activity).   The KLC recognizes the need for a title and a position- they have an amazingly brilliant, passionate, and energetic CEO, Ed O’Malley- but they reason that anyone can exercise leadership without being in a position.

Therefore, leadership has little, if anything, to do with a position or title. Leadership is not a noun- something you are; it’s a verb-something you do.  KLC’s first principle is, “Leadership is an activity; not a position.”

Making that distinction between activity and position is like saying a baseball player is only a baseball player when he’s on the field playing baseball. He is not a baseball player unless he’s actively engaging himself and others in the game of baseball.  So anyone at a meeting who is actively engaged, even if they are sitting clear at the back of the room is just as much a leader as the person standing up front. Conversely, anyone in the room- even the person at the front- who is not actively engaged is not practicing leadership.

The fundamental principle in this model is really quite simple; human dignity.  KLC’s model gives equal value to every voice in the room.  This model assumes that answers to difficult problems will arise when every voice in the room contributes to the common good.

Changing the traditional concept of leadership is about as easy as reversing the laws of gravity. I’ve rewritten this blog several different times; it’s hard to explain because of preconceived notions of leadership.  I’ve been around the KLC model for years and still find my old defaults of leadership equals position getting in the way of productivity.

This all sounds like high-falutin’ theory until you put in practice and then it gets very interesting because the actual practice of this kind of leadership is an activity versus leadership is a position can, as the KLC commonly says, raise the heat in the room.

As you read the 5 leadership principles of KLC and you will go, well, duh, of course, that’s what leadership is. It’s when I get to the, “Yeah, but” that the game changes.

KLC Leadership Principles:

    • Leadership is an activity, not a position.
    • Anyone can lead, anytime, anywhere.
    • It starts with you and must engage others.
    • Your purpose must be clear.
    • It’s risky.

I’m right, aren’t I?  Those make sense and you wonder what is revolutionary about it.

Here’s the Yeah, but; when you really apply the model in a meeting, it’s like the bus driver passed out and all 37 passengers start screaming like little kids in a horror flick trying to grab the wheel and slap the bus driver at the same time.

KLC uses a simple mechanism to change the dynamics; instead of the person facilitating the session (formerly known as the real leader) providing the answers when someone asks a question, they ask a question in return; then another question; then another; then another; then another; then another to the point that someone usually yells “just give us the freaking answer!” This is the point the passengers start slapping the bus driver. 

The response from folks in the meeting from the person in front deliberately not giving answers but asking more questions can be surprisingly adverse.  The KLC folks call this reaction, raising the heat; I call it slapping the bus driver.

The KLC’s model assumes that everyone in an organization or a community can be engaged in leadership regardless of whether or not they have a position.  And if everyone is engaged, then the organization or community will operate at maximum capacity and effectiveness.

Check them out.  www.kansasleadershipcenter.org

Buy Ed’s book (co-written with David Crislip):  For the Common Good: Redefining Civic Leadership

Do whatever you can to go through their training!

The photo on the blog is of their beautiful new facility in Wichita!

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