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When you think of a leader, who comes to mind? Corporate executives? Managers of global organizations? Administrators or supervisors?

Leadership can, in fact, be a high-profile enterprise. Books, articles, and training programs often feature such leaders when dealing with the topic of effective leadership. But more often, leadership is exercised under the radar screen by everyday leaders in schools, homes, and communities.

Everyday leaders don’t have it easy. From a schoolteacher struggling to motivate students to a mayor trying to balance various political agendas, important members of our community face complex challenges every day.

That’s why at CCL, we believe that leadership should be defined in terms of tasks, rather than role or position. Leaders are people who, in connection with others, accomplish the tasks of setting direction, building commitment, and creating alignment.

How do everyday leaders display these outcomes of leadership?

Setting direction involves articulating mission, vision, values, and purposes. Leaders may ask “Where are we going? What are we going to do? And why are we doing it?”

A second task of an effective leader is building commitment. This involves the creation of mutual trust and accountability. A leader focuses on questions like “How can we stay together? How can we work better as a group?”

And a final key task is creating alignment. Effective leaders must find common ground. They want a shared understanding of the situation with well-coordinated actions.

What Everyday Leaders Said About Everyday Leadership

With this framework in mind, we conducted research study to better understand the challenges faced by what we call everyday leaders. Over a 6-month period, we interviewed 5 groups of leaders making a difference every day: educators, public sector employees, professional services providers, small business owners, and other “atypical” leaders.

Interviewees included teachers, a car dealership owner, medical doctors, an accountant, a judge, a mayor, a not-for-profit director, Peace Corps volunteers, and stay-at-home mothers, among others.

Let’s explore some of the results.

When asked to define leadership, most participants agreed on the following: First, leaders must have the ability to create a vision for positive change. They must also help focus resources on right solutions. Leaders have to inspire and motivate others. And lastly, they should provide opportunities for growth and learning.

In terms of key leadership competencies, respondents indicated that skills related to interpersonal openness and building relationships were the most frequently needed. Commitment, demonstrated knowledge, organizational skills and ability to persuade/negotiate were also in the top 5.

Respondents expected the same leadership skills would be most important in the future, along with communication, delegation, and setting direction. Leaders in the future will have to be even more cognizant of their direction and methods of getting colleagues involved.

When these everyday leaders were asked about the challenges they face, here’s what they told us:

  • Educators said that their interactions with students, parents, and other stakeholders are the most challenging parts of their job. Teachers reported often feeling overwhelmed in their roles and struggling to find the time and resources to motivate students and meet their non-teaching responsibilities.
  • Public sector employees mentioned the challenge of balancing multiple demands. Among their concerns were prioritizing effectively and finding time to solve problems. Other challenges had to do with keeping others motivated in tough times, setting boundaries, and balancing multiple political agendas. Public sector employees said they also had difficulty balancing professional and personal pursuits.
  • Challenges cited by the professional services providers were connected to client and relationship management. These professionals have to appease multiple stakeholders, work across boundaries, advocate on behalf of patients or clients, and keep staff motivated. Time management difficulties were cited as a common challenge.
  • The small business leaders said they found it challenging just to “keep the ship afloat.” Keeping the business running efficiently included dealing with employee issues, assuring client satisfaction, providing a vision for employees, hiring staff and keeping employees happy.
  • Among “atypical leaders,” there was little common ground. However, for each of these individuals, self-reliance and ingenuity were themes. This was true for the teacher of a class that mixes adults and children of varying ethnic backgrounds, as well as for the consultant working without an assistant. 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% with my kids. It’s a full-time job.”

You, too, might be an everyday leader. If so, think about your own life experiences and even hardships you’ve faced and how they’ve shaped you as a leader and as an individual.

Here are some words of wisdom to help you face more of life’s everyday leadership challenges:

  • Be ready for anything, and try to keep a positive mindset.
  • Be accountable to yourself, and try to never pass blame.
  • Show responsibility, loyalty, and commitment.
  • Live with intention at work and at home.
  • And never, ever, give up.

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