2 min read

Everyday Leadership: The Power of Example and Empathy

Everyday Leadership: The Power of Example and Empathy
Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust / Unsplash

Believe it or not, you're a leader. Yeah, you. Even if you’re not at the helm of some Fortune 500 company or marshaling troops, leadership is in your DNA. It's like the whole “everyone's a safety officer” spiel—you're on display more than you reckon, from the pews of your church to the chaos of family dinners, in the laughter with friends, and certainly within the walls of your workplace. You're quietly leading, influencing, and setting the tone everywhere you step foot.

Leadership isn't about marching your troops through a rose garden; it's more like navigating a minefield while blindfolded. It’s a gritty, thankless job, but someone's gotta do it.

Being a leader? It means being stricter with yourself than a drill sergeant at dawn and more understanding with others than a saint. You’re the one who skipped the parties to hit the books, who runs in the rain while everyone else is cozy in bed, who turns down the easy money because it didn’t feel right. You’re made of tougher stuff. But here’s the kicker: projecting your ironclad standards onto others is like trying to teach a cat to swim—it’s futile and ends with everyone getting scratched.

Remember, not everyone’s built with your brand of resilience. They haven’t walked your path, faced your battles, or learned how to not cut corners. Expecting them to march in your footsteps isn’t just unfair; it’s a recipe for disaster. It’s about striking that balance—extreme ownership on your part without suffocating them with expectations they never agreed to shoulder.

There’s a great story about the late IBM CEO Tom Watson. In the 1960s, Watson called an executive into his office after his venture lost $10 million. The man assumed he was being fired. Watson told him:

"Fired? Hell, I spent $10 million educating you. I just want to be sure you learned the right lessons."

My old man, the engineer, once royally screwed up, miscalculating materials for a gig to the tune of thousands—hell, maybe even tens of thousands—of dollars in excess they couldn’t send back. He was bracing for the axe to fall, convinced his resume was about to get dusted off. Instead, his boss chalked it up to an expensive crash course in precision, betting on him not to repeat the same mistake. The result? My dad morphed into the embodiment of loyalty and diligence, hammering home to me, his kid, the gospel of triple-checking the simplest math with a calculator, every damn time, no exceptions.

That’s leadership with skin in the game. It’s looking in the mirror first before turning to point fingers. It’s asking yourself if you’ve given enough support, set realistic expectations, or if maybe, just maybe, you’ve been pushing too hard.

But here’s the brutal truth: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. A leader shows up, day in and day out, setting the pace, living the values, and hoping it rubs off. You can’t control the outcome, the creativity, or the fire in their bellies. All you can do is keep being the lighthouse in the storm, guiding the way, because at the end of the day, leadership isn’t about molding clones of yourself—it’s about inspiring others to find their own strength, their own path, and their own way to shine.

So, keep showing up, keep doing the work, and let the chips fall where they may.