When was the last time somebody called you on the phone, just to ask how you were doing?  No particular item of business to discuss… but just to check in?  Or the last time you were new to a group setting, who (if anyone) approached you to introduce themselves?

From my experience, these kinds of behaviors can be rare.  Very few people consistently initiate.  Our day-to-day default is to react based upon our immediate surroundings.

Take something as simple as e-mail.  You open up your inbox in the morning, and what’s there?  A list of messages to read and respond to.  Our automatic reaction is to think our main objective is to “get through” the e-mails, and once we finish that, our job is done.  We can check that box and move on.  But if that’s all we ever do, we are missing something huge in the process!

We are missing the opportunity to initiate an e-mail to that family member, friend or coworker who we know is struggling, or who needs encouragement.  And why do we miss it?  Not because we don’t care about those people… but because we let the forces of reactivity to rule our thoughts and actions.  We can be so preoccupied with (or anxious about) getting through our to-do list, that we fail to take the initiative.

You can see very similar forces at work in the world of social media, as well.  Think about it… when you log in to Facebook, what’s the first thing that pops up?  The newsfeed, containing mostly the “top” or most “relevant” stories.  In other words, you are more likely to see whatever everybody else is looking at, or posts by people who have the most “friends”, or whatever else is determined by Facebook algorithms and user behavior.  So more often than not, default behavior on social media will be to give attention and encouragement to what is most popular… to react to what’s in front of you.  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this… that’s a huge function of social media working at its best.

I am saying, however, that I notice leadership in those who don’t just look at what’s in front of them, which everybody else is noticing.  I notice people who write encouragements on people’s profiles, without a status update to provoke it.  I notice people who encourage and share the writings or thoughts of those who aren’t always the loudest on the newsfeeds, because the content is worthwhile, not just because it’s getting a lot of publicity, or being consistently promoted.

Conformity is doing the minimum, the easiest thing… which is usually to see and react to our immediate surroundings, and behave like everybody else – whether on e-mail, social media, or at a social gathering.  Leadership is about seeing and noticing more.

So the next time you’re on e-mail, consider writing a message, to let somebody know that you “noticed” them, whether if you’re appreciating them, or expressing care and concern.  The next time you’re on Facebook, skim the newsfeed but scroll down a bit to the lesser-viewed posts, or consider who might not be as loud but might need encouragement the most of all.  And the next time you’re at your work party or Sunday church, talk to your friends, but also look around and see who might be looking for somebody to talk to, and initiate with them.  Leadership can be that simple.  It might not seem like much to you, but you might be surprised what a world of difference it can make to others.

For more discussion:

What are some other ways you see leadership play out in communication and social media?

What are other ideas that have helped you, in resisting doing the minimum and taking initiative in your relationships and life?

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