Blog Post


Both the CEO and the Janitor are Leaders And I’ll Prove It

Inside every block of marble is a David. Granted, Michelangelo chipped and chipped away to reveal the magnificent 17-foot statue, nonetheless, David was in there. The same idea holds true for individuals in organizations.

We are all blocks of marble housing a leader (David) within. I am not speaking about having the potential to be a leader, which is in the future. I mean, everyone in an organization is a leader now, irrespective of job title, education, or position.

This is a paradigm shift

We have been brainwashed into thinking leadership is a high-profile position with power and influence bestowed on a select few, who’ve been endowed with special characteristics. As a result, we dismiss the idea that we are leaders exercising leadership qualities daily, whether it be as the CEO or as the janitor.

We seek out sources to learn how to develop the traits others judge to be important for leading in studies and articles proclaiming, “The Top 10 Best Leadership Qualities,” or “45 Traits Every Leader Must Have.” The answers are not there. They are within us, waiting to be discovered.


1. Believe you already possess leadership qualities. 

Keep in mind that as human beings, all that exists in the universe exists within us. This is not a new idea and it is a crucial starting point. If you do not believe you have these qualities already, then you will be caught in a never-ending loop of seeking them.

Although others may have the same characteristic as you, it doesn’t diminish yours. Similarly, if they are different, there is no need to develop that quality. It is within you waiting to be tapped when the opportunity presents itself and you choose to lead.

2. Observe yourself in the external world as a way to reveal your internal qualities and claim them. 

Discovering our leadership characteristics come from our interactions with the world and people around us. Have you ever noticed how every story published of an esteemed leader includes how they were raised, who influenced them, and their unique challenges?

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, is lauded for bringing compassion and empathy back into the workplace. Classes are popping up to teach people how to be more empathetic since it is now recognized as a leadership quality.

It was circumstances in Nadella’s life that nurtured these qualities in him. We learn in his book, Hit Refresh, that he has a severely disabled child, who, Nadella says, “has taught me kindness.”  He chooses to exercise these characteristics of empathy and compassion in his role at Microsoft. Because of his high-profile position, people assume that these are important leadership qualities to possess. For him, yes! For you, maybe not.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” –Martin Luther King Jr.

To discover your leadership ability, think about a life situation that brought out one or two characteristics in you—something you were not expecting. What did you need to find within yourself to face it? What did you learn? Once you name it, you’ve discovered one or more of your leadership characteristics.

3. Craft a statement to house and express that characteristic. 

Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, a Nazi death camp survivor, wrote: “Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life…a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced…everyone’s task is as unique as his specific opportunity.”

An individual contributor in a healthcare system recently identified who she is as a leader using this process. In reviewing her life situations, she realized that being ethical and living consistent with her values helped her to decide to stop going to lunch with a group of colleagues who continuously gossiped. Her statement is “I am an ethical and just leader.” She said it was hard, at first, to not participate but who she was as a leader far outweighed her need for inclusion.

4. Redefine leadership as a choice. A state of mind. Not a set of behaviors to master nor a position to exercise the power of the ego. 

Commonly accepted definitions focus primarily on behaviors and actions, which are judged as “good” or “bad” and then packaged and promoted as leadership characteristics.

Viewing leadership this way expands the definition to be inclusive versus exclusive. In other words, everyone is a leader. As a state of mind, leadership is an ideal an individual holds, stands for, and makes choices from. When consumed by that ideal, the person is willing to be driven by it, for good or bad, sometimes even to death.

Everyone is a leader.

I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university. – Albert Einstein

For example, standing for human rights is what drove Aung San Suu Kyi, state counselor (de facto leader) of Myanmar to be a political prisoner for more than two decades. For her activism, she received the Nobel Peace prize in 1991. Recently, she is being denigrated for ignoring the plight of the Rohingya Muslims and stripped of her honorary Canadian citizenship.

Her behaviors and actions changed. Did her state of mind? Is she consumed by ego? In either case, in her mind, she was upholding human rights for the Burmese people. Several behaviors and actions can come from one ideal and at any given moment, whether conscious or unconscious, a choice is made to act consistent with that state of mind.

Generally, what separates a CEO from a janitor is education, skills, and position. However, from a leadership perspective, they are equal because they both possess leadership qualities. Each has had different “life lessons”, which required exercising their unique leadership traits — putting them into action when the need arises.

You are a leader. You were created for a specific purpose. Your responsibility (and your joy) is to believe, identify, embrace and live by it.

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