Skip to main content

Leading from where you are

| April 28, 2020

by Rick Fredericks

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is by Rick Fredericks, MOR Associates Program Leader and Leadership Coach.  Rick may be reached at [email protected]]

It is not news that MOR will push you to adopt beneficial practices.  I am honoring this quest personally by building a stay at home practice.  This makes sense considering my unholy trinity of risk factors: age, autoimmune disorder, and coronary artery disease.  It’s all amplified by over-consumption of Cadbury mini-eggs, strong coffee, and Italian lunch meats.  Even still, physical distancing is a tall order.  This reductive stay at home practice requires a letting go.  For this pivot, I took one last trip to a local supermarket.

I paused to observe the shopping cart wrangler.  This young woman had a great process.  She sanitized the handle, wiped down the child seat, spun the cart around and neatly offered it each customer. Her greeting was comforting and her system was efficient.  This $9/hour employee was the front-line representative of a multinational Dutch corporation.  On that day, she was the best that this grocery giant had to offer. Leadership wasn’t in her job description.  It was her choice.

The idea of leadership as personal choice rather than job title is not new.  At MOR, we have been developing this concept over several years.  We call it, “Lead from Where You Are”. In the words of company founder Brian McDonald, this means, “taking the initiative to influence and engage yourself and others in contributing to attainment of organizational goals – regardless of your role or position in the workplace”.

We have been collecting stories of individuals leading from where they are over the past month.  In a period of discontinuity, there are countless acts of selflessness, innovative thinking, and collaboration.  The constraints of job descriptions have been replaced by a vigorous new mindset.  In the words of Tron Compton-Engle, at Case Western Reserve University, “It is amazing what opens up when you think beyond the confines of your own job description.”  It is strangely liberating. Individuals can focus more on users and less on performance indices that simply reinforce old standards.  They can take risks, act independently and strengthen relationships.  New norms are emerging and worthwhile lessons are being learned.  Most importantly, many are thinking differently about the future.

Few will label COVID-19 as a good thing.  But a good thing has been a pandemic of people rising to leadership opportunities.  Countless individuals have chosen to lead from where they are.  Perhaps a new challenge has emerged. How do we build upon the agile, adaptive, and caring responses to this pandemic?  Jaci Lindburg, at The University of Nebraska offers, “Leading the types of large-scale change that are needed in all of higher education right now do not come easy.  Be relentless in improving the things that matter and be relentless in not spending your time on the things that keep us status quo.”  It is a real opportunity.  Are we developing new perspectives and services that turn our shopping carts into a service breakthrough?

Think about the shopping cart wrangler as you consider your week ahead. Identify opportunities to lead, regardless of your role or title in the organization.  Beware the echo chambers of negativity.  Instead,  liberate yourself by embracing a growth mindset.   Heed the wisdom of vulnerability researcher Brené Brown: “A crisis highlights all our fault lines, we can pretend that we have nothing to learn, or we can take this opportunity to own the truth and make a better future for ourselves and others.”1  Ignite this mindset by seeing through the eyes of others.  And then stretch yourself to think beyond old constraints. A breakthrough can follow and a powerful new skill lands in your leadership toolbox.  You keep this new tool sharp by stepping up and leading from where you are.




1. Reggie Ugwu, “Brené Brown is Rooting for You, Especially Now”, April 24, 2020, NY Times.