Are you always a credit union leader – or only when you lead?

Originally posted on CUinsight.com. Written by Drew Dudley, Founder & Chief Catalyst, Day One Leadership and Keynote Speaker for NAFCU's CEOs and Senior Executives Conference.

Did you know that the word “leader” first appeared in the English language sometime in the 12th century, but the word “leadership” didn’t come along until almost 500 years later?

I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we swapped the proverbial leadership chicken and egg.  Historically, we created “leader” before “leadership”; but would we now be better off teaching that the former only exists in the presence of the latter?

Right now it seems to me that we treat the term “leader” as if it’s a military rank: once someone earns it, it’s theirs until they die or do something to deserve having it stripped from them.  The result is that many people are considered “leaders” not because of what they’re doing on a day-to-day basis, but because of something they achieved in the past.

However, what would happen if we no longer used past acts to judge whether or not someone was a “leader”?  What if we came to believe that a person is only a leader during the moments they are actively engaged in the process of leadership?

For instance, a baseball player is only a “baserunner” when they are on the bases.  In the dugout, in the batter’s box, even when they’re playing in the field he or she can be acknowledged as having extraordinary baserunning talent–but until they actually actively apply those talents they are not a baserunner.

In other words, what if we began to teach that you no longer say, “Christine is a leader.”  Instead, you say, “Christine is often a leader.”  Or perhaps ideally, “Christine is usually a leader.”  

For the sake of this discussion, let’s say leadership was defined as “endeavouring to add value to others.”  As such, people would only be leaders in those moments they were endeavouring to add value. What if we started treating the title of “leader” as nothing more than a temporary state: like in old school video games where your character gets extra big or can’t be killed.  Eventually that temporary state wears off, and you have to do whatever is required to earn it once again.

What if we began to teach our children that you could be a leader many times a day, but there would likely be just as many moments, or more, where you were not?

When I talk about leadership, I encourage executives to ask themselves if they’re creating workplaces where people are competing to get to a “point” where they have earned the title of leader, or if they’re encouraging people to engage in the daily “practice” of leadership.  

A great opportunity to ask and answer these questions will be at NAFCU’s CEOs and Senior Executives Conference, set for April 26-28 in Miami Beach, Fla. I’ll be there with credit union leaders from around the country, gathered to hear about the latest strategies in leadership, efficiency and problem solving. I hope you can join us for chance to revisit our understanding of what makes a leader – and how a new take on leadership can make our organizations better.