by Mike Myers, with Ashley Whittington (sounding board and editor) and Zeyna Anderson (illustrations)

This month, we’re featuring a series of posts on “everyday leadership” from the USAID Global Health Professional and Organizational Development II contract—GHPOD II. The GHPOD II team works around the globe, offering training and coaching on topics like those featured in this series. To start us off, Mike Myers talks about the creative work of leadership.

How do you take creative actions to express leadership at your organization? Let us know in the comments.

As a leadership facilitator, I’ve traveled the world spreading a message I believe in: leadership can be expressed at all levels of an organization. It’s not about your position, level of authority, years of experience, or genetic makeup. Leadership is about developing a set of knowledge and abilities and then harnessing those powers to consistently be your best self and help others do the same. It’s about knowing and managing yourself, building healthy relationships, learning continuously, and ensuring the people you work with also have those opportunities.

I’ve spent years sharing this message, helping others identify how they are already leaders, and exploring how they can be better leaders tomorrow than they are today. Even the hesitant—given enough time to process and discuss—come to believe it.

How can you take the first steps to assert your leadership skills and show everyone what you’re capable of? The barriers can seem insurmountable. Maybe you’re facing bureaucracy, lack of growth opportunities, unproductive supervisory relationships, or implicit or explicit biases. You’re not alone. It’s easy, common, and understandable to feel stuck. But you don’t need to leave your organization or resign yourself to repeating each day as you have been. You can take small, creative actions to express leadership, exert influence, and improve your situation.

Find Informal Ways to Lead

If you aren’t getting opportunities to put your expertise and passions into practice on formal tasks, find informal ways to be a leader. Start an internal blog about a topic you’re interested in, invite your colleagues to a brown bag on the subject, or make room in your weekly team meeting to share something you’ve learned over the last week.

The more your colleagues hear your voice on a certain topic, the more your name will come up in discussions around that subject as a thought leader.

Be Creative about Expressing Your Passions through Your Work

If your day-to-day tasks don’t provide opportunities to apply your passions to your work, think of creative ways to do so. Create a Venn diagram like the one below. In the left circle, write the things you are most curious and passionate about—the things you really enjoy doing. In the right circle, write the current needs of your team or organization. In the center, create a list of where those topics overlap.

Spend time reflecting on the items in the middle of that diagram, and think creatively about small steps you can take to act on those ideas. How you can create something new that would benefit your team’s work? If you enjoy writing poetry and your team needs to improve its ability to market new initiatives, maybe you can write a poem about an initiative for the next newsletter. Something that will really catch people’s eyes.

When your passions serve a purpose at work, everybody wins. By being proactive and creative, you’ll be demonstrating your willingness to go out of your way to add value to the team. Doing so builds your brand. And, hopefully, it will attract more of the type of work you’re passionate about in the future.

Look for Inspiration Outside of Your Usual Circles

If the people in your circle aren’t providing the leadership you need to change your situation, try expanding your circle. The motivation you need could come from a family member, a friend, a colleague from another team, a new connection in a community of practice, or an author.

The important thing to remember is that you’re not alone, even if you feel that way right now. Sometimes, all it takes is one inspiring idea, one powerful question to reflect on, or the simple understanding that someone else out there has gone through a similar experience. Don’t be afraid to reach outside of your immediate circle to find that piece of inspiration.

Embrace the Possibilities for Actions to Express Leadership

Leadership is possible at all levels of a team or organization, but it’s not always easy. Part of being a leader is being brave enough to put yourself out there, be vulnerable, and make your voice heard. It might work, it might not. After trying these suggestions, you might still feel frustrated or “stuck.” But that’s okay, because a leader sees “failure” as a stepping stone. Embrace it, learn from it, harness your creativity, and try again. And don’t forget to recognize examples of good leadership on your team when they happen. In addition to being an expert facilitator, my colleague Zeyna Anderson is an amazing artist. She expressed creative and brave leadership by sketching the pictures for this post. Thanks, Zeyna!


EnCompass implements GHPOD II for the USAID Bureau for Global Health.