Holding the umbrella, lessons in leadership

Cars crawled through the dusty streets nose to tail, as mopeds wove in and out, catching any opportunity to flow.

Nestled amongst stone carvings sat a small group of people, their white sarongs sparkling in the sunlight, brightly coloured tunics marking the ceremony.  As one man prayed and made offerings to the Balinese Gods, an old man sat holding an umbrella. He gave shelter from the sun to the man in prayer.  As I drove by slowly it was a moment captured in time, a moment representing service and I was reminded of a lesson I learned over a decade ago.

At that time I was leading a large team of 50 plus people and I had been visible for months as we created and delivered a transformational event.   Although I’m an introvert, I’m also naturally a leader and I thrive on bringing communities together in service of personal growth.  I loved being in the limelight and being seen.  Of course with that came vulnerability and challenge, often I enjoyed this less!

The next time I participated in the community my role was different. I was allocated to liaise with the hotel to make sure the temperature of the training room was comfortable, and that there were always toilet rolls in the bathroom. For a moment I considered this a mighty fall from grace.  After all the responsibilities I had held for months as the leader, I was now responsible for checking the bathrooms!

As I went about my role I came to understand. My ability to lead was not linked to my title, my position or my role. Leadership was about me and my intention. How I chose to show up, what I stood for and how I wanted to be of service. That weekend I learned about something I call ‘leading from the back’.

I believe that we are all leaders in our lives. Sometimes this is visible, where you are seen. Perhaps you give an inspiring talk to your industry peer group. Maybe you lead a cutting edge project in your organisation and fundamentally change the way things work. Perhaps you create a platform that connects thousands of people who would otherwise not have met.

Sometimes leadership requires us to be up front and visible.

But if leadership is also about who you are, and what you stand for, then it must be true that your ability to lead also shows up in the everyday aspects of life – leadership from the back. How you connect with another person and ask how they are.  How you are graceful with the help you receive.  Being interested in another person and offering a kind word.  Sharing a smile with a stranger.   Asking for support and admitting you don’t have it all worked out.  Taking time to share a passing joke or the beauty of a moment. Often these small ideas are the ones which make the biggest difference.

Often these leadership acts require us to pause, slow down, step away from the busy-ness and hold the umbrella for another.

And sometimes it’s simply about making sure there’s enough toilet roll!

With love,




One Response to “Holding the umbrella, lessons in leadership”

  1. tmi

    Arianna Huffington’s 8 lessons and tips on success, work and life balance, and \nwise .


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