Everyday Leaders Everyday Challenge

Center for Creative Leadership: Leading Effectively e-Newsletter, September 2006, www.ccl.org
Everyday Leaders
Everyday Challenge
Everyday leaders don't have it easy. From the school teacher struggling to motivate students, to the
mayor trying to balance various political agendas, to the day-to-day work of running a business,
everyday leaders continually face complex challenges.
CCL recently conducted a study of educators, public sector employees, small-business owners,
professional service providers and atypical leaders to better understand the challenges they face.
"By listening to leaders describe their struggles, we learned that the specific challenges of everyday
leaders vary greatly," says André Martin. "However, like leaders in the business arena, many are
dealing with change, uncertainty and multiple demands."
The challenges faced by the educators dealt almost entirely with their interaction with students, parents
and other stakeholders. Generally, there was a sense of being overwhelmed by the multiple tasks in a
given day and the importance of their role. They struggled to find the time and resources to develop
others, motivate students and meet their non-teaching responsibilities.
Public sector employees focused on the challenge of balancing multiple demands. Prioritizing
effectively and finding time to solve problems were among their concerns. Other challenges had to do
with keeping others motivated in tough times, setting boundaries and sticking to them and balancing
multiple political agendas. They also had difficulty balancing professional and personal pursuits.
Challenges for professional services providers were connected to client and relationship management:
dealing with multiple stakeholders, working across boundaries, advocating on behalf of
patients/clients, judging conflicting ideas and direction and keeping staff motivated during trying
times. Time management was mentioned frequently as a reason why meeting these challenges was
Small business leaders' challenges are tied to "keeping the ship afloat." Keeping the business running
efficiently included specific challenges such as dealing with employee issues, client satisfaction,
providing a vision for employees, hiring staff and keeping employees happy.
In the group CCL researchers named "atypical leaders," there was little common ground around
specific challenges. However, for each of these individuals, self-reliance and ingenuity was a theme.
This was true for the teacher having to develop experiences for a class that mixes adults and children
of varying ethnic backgrounds as well as for the consultant working without an assistant or a
Blackberry. One stay-at-home mom put it this way: "I am the CEO of my house. My husband has no
clue what goes into running the house. From 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., I must be 100 percent with my kids. It is
a full-time job."
Learning from Life
Challenges may be overwhelming, stressful and even exciting, but they are also opportunities to learn.
At CCL, we often ask leaders to share key events that helped shape them as a person and as a leader; in
our research, we asked the same question of everyday leaders. The responses ranged from serving in
the military to the birth of a child to having a paper route. Stories often revolved around unexpected
obstacles or choices or situations that built self-confidence. Some lessons learned from life's challenges
A leader must show responsibility, loyalty and commitment.
Know how to keep many irons burning at the same time.
Be ready for anything.
Be authentic.
Live in the day you have.
New situations breed new perspectives.
Never quit.
Keep a positive mindset.
Be accountable to yourself and never pass the blame.
Teamwork is essential to success.