When I joined Leadership C-Suite, I had a very “traditional” view of leadership. When I thought of what it meant, I imagined subordinates, and companies, and structures. I imagined hierarchies. And as someone who has only very rarely had subordinates, I certainly didn’t think of myself as a leader.

But during one of the early C-Suite sessions, as we all gathered around discussing what leadership was, and what kind of leader each of us wanted to be, someone challenged that view by pointing out that leadership didn’t come in just one form. That there were in fact many styles of leadership, such as thought leadership, a style centered around conversation and the championing of new ideas, and servant leadership, a style that focuses on actively working to help develop other people and remove the barriers to their success.

While the concepts were new to me, the ideas they represented felt familiar; I could immediately think of individuals I’d met who fit those styles, and could recognize the influence they’d had on me. And almost instantly, I realized how poorly formed my own view was.

I had been associating leadership with a role, something we were assigned, but these styles centered around the behaviors and concepts that drove change. They centered around how people lead, not merely whether or not they were identified as a “leader”.

So over the next few weeks, I found myself thinking about leadership in the context of change, and reflecting on the experiences that played a strong role in shaping my life. The experiences that led me to change what I believe, or how I thought, or how I acted.

“I found myself thinking about leadership in the context of change”

I thought about the books I read in high school that shaped the philosophical mindset I approach the world with. Books that explored ideas like what it means for a society to evolve, the responsibility we have as individuals, and the long-term consequences of our actions. Books that raised questions such as whether having the power to do something was the same as having the right to.

I thought about the video games I played as a kid, that often started you in a small town with few skills, but were designed around a mechanic that rewarded effort with growth, and unraveled over time to tell an epic narrative about how we can grow up to change the world. Experiences that instilled in me a desire to become a creator, to dream without limits, and to not be constrained by the world I see.

I thought of the people who showed me the effect we can have on others around us. A co-worker who always smiled and laughed, regardless of how difficult things were, and noticeably brightened the mood of every room he was in. Another who challenged inefficiency with such intense positivity and energy, that it was infectious to everyone around him. And another who showed me how our intent shapes an experience, and how effective curiosity can be as a tool for transforming conflict into collaborative problem solving.

As I reflected on my life during those weeks, two things became clear. First, the majority of the people I thought of were not leaders in the “traditional” sense, and yet each of them had an undeniable influence on the course of my life. And second, I wasn’t thinking about them so much as the experiences they created, whether those were material creations, like media, or immaterial creations through their interactions with others.

Each of these people showed me something I wanted, but didn’t yet know. Each of them helped paint a vision for the world, of what we could have and what we could be. These were the people whose actions set the course of my life, who created experiences that fueled a drive that has propelled me forward as I pursue a goal, with a conviction that hasn’t faded. These were the people who left that a memory that after all these years still inspires. And if that’s not leadership, I really don’t know what is.

I am who I am because of these people, because of the things they created, and the experiences they created around them. And if it’s our experiences in life that shape us, then I think leadership is about creating experiences, and inviting others to be a part of them, whether it’s the chance to try something new, to think about an idea, or to see something from a new perspective.

“I think leadership is about creating experiences, and inviting others to be a part of them.”

So now, when I think of leadership, I realize I don’t think of hierarchies at all. Now, I don’t see leadership as a role, so much as a behavior. I don’t think it’s something we aspire to become, so much as something we choose to be. Now, I think leadership is about being brave enough to be you, to bring what you have, and to actively share it with others; to create experiences and conversations, to share ideas, and to welcome others to join you.

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