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What Is Everyday Leadership and Why Does It Matter?

How each and every one of us can lead in our jobs and communities.

When people think of leaders, they conjure images of presidents, CEOs, or upper-level managers. There is a belief that only leaders lead, and the rest of us follow. But that is simply not the case.

Leadership is really a process of helping to move a collective toward some goal or outcome (hopefully one that is shared by all members of the group). Our research has been focusing on how regular people, regardless of whether they have any formal leadership position or not, lead in everyday life. We labeled this “everyday leadership,” and we defined it as “an individual who, regardless of formal title or authority, influences others to achieve shared objectives for the good of the collective.”

What this means is that we all can engage in leadership activities at work, in the community, or at home. We assert that leadership is more about an activity that one engages in rather than possessing a formal role or title. Certainly, there are persons with leadership titles who don’t lead, and a great deal of leadership is done by people without any titles. Let’s look at some examples.

Greta Thunberg was a 15-year-old student in Sweden when she started advocating for environmental responsibility and action. She took action by sailing to North America to speak at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, and through this act of everyday leadership, she has become a recognized representative of the environmental movement, named Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” and nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. The student survivors of the shooting at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida, who spoke out and marched for gun control, are other examples of everyday leaders.

In my local community, one individual in an impoverished and crime-ridden neighborhood began a campaign to make the area safer, by starting a community garden in an empty lot, and by lobbying the city for increased street lighting. These efforts led to more citizens enjoying the outdoors and keeping crime away.

How can we engage in everyday leadership in our own communities and workplaces?

  • Initiate or take charge of some special project. Look around and see what needs to be done, and lead that effort. This applies to the workplace, the community, and at home.
  • Mentor, coach, or assist in someone else’s development. This is an activity most leaders engage in to develop their followers, but anyone can do this. Be a mentor to a coworker, or offer sage advice to a young person.
  • Speak up. As the saying goes, “see something, say something!” If something is amiss, don’t look the other way. Speak up so that others will know about the problem or situation so that collective action can be taken. A simple everyday leadership strategy is to vote regularly and attend community meetings to have your voice heard.
  • Volunteer. In the workplace, go above and beyond your job description to take on activities that promote your work team and/or the organization. In the community, get involved in solving some pressing social problem.

In today’s difficult and uncertain times, we share responsibility for taking action and solving social ills. We need everyday leadership—people from all walks of life, to speak up and act for the betterment of society.

References

Riggio, R.E., Liu, Z., Reichard, R., & Walker, D.O.* (2020). Everyday leadership: Engaged followership at its finest. In Z. Jaser (Ed.), The connecting leader: Serving concurrently as a leader and a follower. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Press.

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