Developing Leaders starts with a focus on your own leadership development – focussing on the ‘little l’ moments. Leadership is a complex and confusing attribute for most of us.

There is no one clear definition, it means different things to different people, and we can disagree over a behaviour being a demonstration of good or bad leadership. What actions should potential leaders undertake to demonstrate good leadership qualities?

What are the qualities of being a good team member? How do I get the opportunity to demonstrate it?

In short, have we made the definition of good leadership so unattainable that mere mortals can’t achieve it?

Defining Great Leadership

With the aim of simplifying things, great leadership can be defined as influencing others in a positive way. The positive influence most often associated with leadership involves big statements, larger than life actions and courageous achievements. Perhaps we need to focus less on Leadership with a big ‘L’ and more on leadership with a ‘little l’.

Developing Leaders With A ‘Little L’

To paraphrase a favourite movie (Love Actually – I know, let it go ?), leadership is, actually all around us. There are people leading by example and guiding others through difficult times in all major industries, yet their behaviour may be ignored because it doesn’t fit into the ‘big L’ category of leadership.

Take a moment to think about the leaders, managers, parents, teachers and mentors that have influenced your life the most. Now consider what they did to make you feel that way about them. Having asked this question of hundreds of managers, the answers are rarely Braveheartesque moments (my term – a ‘big L’ leadership statement that inspired the masses to feats of greatness –  similar to the ‘sons of Scotland’ speech from William Wallace in the movie Braveheart) in nature.

The most remembered influential moments and actions are small things; providing you an opportunity when others wouldn’t, seeing potential in you, guiding you and providing advice, demonstrating a better way of doing things. It might have even been having that difficult conversation about your behaviour that wasn’t quite up to par. It could have been standing up for you when other didn’t / wouldn’t. It is these ‘little l’ leadership moments that make our mentors great, often backed up by personal example that extends for months and years.

Our potential leaders, team members and customers may have been seeing examples such as these in their daily lives, but not realised that these small actions are what good leadership is made of.

Who Influenced Your Leadership Behaviour?

Can you remember the people/person that influenced your leadership and teaching the most? What are the examples, behaviours, attitudes and ethics that were demonstrated to you that have affected you the most? I can think of four defining moments, but the first is the one that probably had the most lasting impact.

Leadership Doesn’t Need Words Or Even Movement To Have An Impact

This picture was taken when I was five years old. It is a grainy old picture now, but I remember the day being cloudy and crisply cold. I was standing next to my Mum and brother, watching the three members of the Catafalque party as the Last Post was sounded. I remember shivering, and couldn’t understand how the men lowering their heads over their rifles could stand so still for so long without doing the same. Over time, this photo came to represent what I thought being in the military was about; disciplined, focused and resolute. It also came to represent many of my thoughts on leadership regarding duty, doing things for others and trying to achieve a higher goal. For many years that picture was what I aspired to be.

It is a picture of Staff Sergeant Stephen Peiniger – my Dad.

The earliest and one of my strongest leadership memories involved someone not being able to move an inch and not being able to make a sound. The image, feelings and awe are as vivid today as they were when I was five.

Developing Leaders Focuses on Small Influential Moments

Leadership is as much about the big, bold decisions and statements as it is about the small, personal influences that we have on the lives of those around us. My Executive Leadership Coaching clients have similar examples – small, influential moments that have had big, lasting impacts on their thoughts and actions as leaders. Sometimes it just takes context for them to recognise the skills, qualities and behaviours that distinguish the good leadership from the poor.

The discussion you have with a student about striving to be better and achieving more than they have been could be the leadership catalyst that lives in that child’s memory for years to come. In the ongoing debate on whether politicians, business leaders or sportspeople demonstrate leadership, we should remember that the longest lasting leadership influences start with a ‘little l’, and that shouldn’t be forgotten.