Peer Voice Project

“Moving Up, Together” by Christina Carney


When I googled “leadership as a verb”, countless articles and blogs popped up. I’ve pulled a couple of quotes from my favorite, an article from, called “Leadership as a Verb,” by Naomi Hattaway. I recommend reading the whole article here.

The dictionary tells us that the word leadership is a noun, but there’s compelling arguments for understanding it as a verb. Leadership, in my eyes – and I’m clearly not alone as my google search indicates – is about action, not about title. I see people who have the title, not showing leadership, and people without the title (or even seeking the title out) who demonstrate leadership regularly.

Leaders look at the opportunities that lay before them, and see the gaps in the world around them and they take action. Sometimes the action is as an individual and sometimes it’s by rallying the troops to invite others to also exercise their skills and impart their knowledge. Leaders act with courage, regardless of title and often without permission. – Naomi Hattaway

It’s easy to defer to those who have the title, to think that they somehow know more, or better. I think this is especially true for anyone who has been downtrodden by systems and culture and has been told (sometimes in words, sometimes in actions), that they have no power and their voices don’t count. It means we all sit and wait and look at each other to see who will move up, who will lead us. But honestly, the world is on fire, and we can’t wait any longer. The world needs conscious, mindful leadership more than ever.

There’s a practice in Circle Councils of rotating, or shared leadership. I’ve not often seen this work, and I think it’s because we’ve been taught that there’s someone up front and leadership is their job. Shared leadership can feel unfamiliar and if not done well, like an empty gesture. But if there is a shared goal, it makes sense that there is shared responsibility and it allows everyone to bring their own gifts to the endeavor.  Having said that, it’s critical that there is a shared goal, a vision that everyone can get behind and support. I know this is a practice I continue to work on for myself as well.

It’s also important to know when to move up and when to move back. It’s about your own leadership and it’s about supporting others’ leadership. In this Forbes article, Carsten Tams quotes Mary Parker Follett, from her book written in 1924 called The Creative Experience: “Leadership is not defined by the exercise of power but by the capacity to increase the sense of power among those led. The most essential work of the leader is to create more leaders.” I love the title of the article too: “Bye-Bye Heroic Leadership. Here Comes Shared Leadership.”

By shifting the perspective from viewing leadership as a single-person activity to viewing it as collective construction processes, space opens up for all participants to express their agency at every stage of the change process, from ideation to implementation. – Carsten Tams

Maybe you’ve never thought of yourself as a leader. That’s okay. Maybe no one has ever told you that you could be a leader, or that your leadership is needed. I’m here to tell you (again) that you can and that it is. Don’t wait for the title, or permission. Find the place where you are needed and take action there.  Forget leadership as a noun – make it a verb.

Leadership is an art, a choice and a daily practice. Leadership is not what happens when you take a seat at the table with your name card or when you step up to the podium. Leadership is what happens when you seek to make an impact in the lives of others.  – Naomi Hattaway

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