07 Nov 2015

Leadership With A Little ‘L’

Great leadership can be defined as ‘influencing others in a positive way’. It can also be defined ‘predictability’ and hundreds of other quotable phrases.

Perhaps we need to focus less on Leadership with a big ‘L’ (the all encompassing definition) and more on leadership with a ‘little l’ (the little behaviours that make a difference).

To paraphrase a favourite movie, leadership is actually all around us. There are people leading by example and guiding others through difficult times in all major industries, yet their behaviours 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 (my term – a ‘big L’ leadership statement that inspired the masses to feats of greatness – ‘sons of Scotland’ etc) in nature.

They 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 is these ‘little l’ leadership moments that make our mentors great, often backed up by personal example that extends for months and years.

Can you remember the people that influenced your leadership the most? More importantly, can you remember the behaviours they demonstrated?

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. I have had cause to reflect on the picture below several times in the last week or so, as the 100th Anniversay of Armistice Day took place on 11 November.

Rememberance Day and ANZAC Day are probably only the two days of the year that I truly miss being a member of the Air Force. It is also a time when I remember the great teams I have worked with and the great leaders that I have been led by. On each of these days, in 1999 (as a Catafalque party member) and in 2002 (carrying the Queen’s Colour) that I truly felt proud of what I had achieved as a leader with the wonderful people I had an opportunity to work with.

The same could be said of the image below – it is also one of my earliest memories.


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 on ANZAC Day. 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 service, 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.

Leadership is less 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.

The discussion you have with a team member about striving to be better and achieving more than they have been could be the leadership catalyst that lives in that person’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.

Lest we forget.


Leadership Reflection:

1.  What are the ‘little L’ leadership attributes that you want to be known for?

2.  If I spoke to your team or the people closest to you – would they describe the atrributes you thought of above?

3.  What ‘little L’ action can you take in the next 24 hours to have a positive impact on someone in your sphere of influence?

Please feel free to share your ‘little L’ leadership actions with us on LinkedIn or Facebook. Look for the article on ‘Leadership with a Little L’ and share – we love to learn from others little wins and much as we like to have our own.


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