When we talk about “taking the lead,” we’re talking about doing everything we can to get women to half of the top leadership positions across the board—in government, business, media, you name it—because this is important and we know our society will be better off for it. We want to think big because what we’re after IS big; we want large-scale change and equal representation and we have ways to speed up the process by which we get there. But we’re also talking about encouraging women to “take the lead” little by little, day by day, in their own lives in ways that work for them.
Just as leadership means many different things and is changing definition—Brené Brown, for example, says a leader is anyone who holds themselves responsible for people or processes—“taking the lead” will inevitably mean something different for each of us. For some, it looks like running for office. For others, it looks like accepting an invitation to give a speech or starting a company or joining a network of leaders we know we can learn from and contribute something toward. For others, it means opting out of a job or a relationship that is “too small” for us as the poet David Whyte says so that we can move on and make better use of our time and energy. For everyone, it involves making small changes, day-in, day-out to align our work and our actions with our values. Big goals require the regular practice of small, daily steps.
I’ll soon be starting ballet again, at a new studio in New York, after a few years of not dancing. This intimidates the heck out of me because I love dance and starting over with anything is hard. But I try to remember what my ballet teacher from Cambridge, Anna Myer, told me, which is that the most basic routines are the most important. Those small changes you make at the barre, how you stack your muscles and bones, where you place your weight, how you position your feet, whether or not you pay attention to your breath—those things are everything. Those things make up the daily practice that serve as the foundation for all those leaps and bounds. And that work never stops.
There’s an organizational change principle too called the “minimum, elegant next step,” as in “What is the minimum, elegant next step you or your team can take to do the work you hope to do together?” Working from this principle is just like sweating at the barre. Try to change everything and you’ll lose your balance. Focus your attention on small, simple movements and behavior changes, and watch as things begin to align differently.
What if taking the lead in our own lives, jobs, and communities could be this simple and elegant? And all of these small changes added up to something much bigger? What is the minimum, elegant next step you can take to embrace your power and demonstrate leadership?