In a word, are you lacking a leader who leads?

leadership, leading, lead, leaderless, leaderlyIf an organization doesn’t have a leader, it is leaderless.

If an organization has a leader, it…has a leader. There’s no adjective to officially refer to the state of someone or something displaying leadership.

Why is that?!

I first started wondering about this almost two years ago. And I’ve written about since.

I’m bringing it up again because language reflects our society, our values, our opinions. So what does it say that we have a word for when we don’t have a leader but not one for when we do? 

Dive deeper in this week’s podcast:

Being leaderly when leaderless

Quick follow-up to yesterday’s post on The Importance of Being Leaderly.

There is an Official Adjective that speaks to leadership in an organization: leaderless.

Yes, that’s right. We have a word to describe a lack of leadership but not one to describe a surfeit of leadership. Nope, not one to describe the idea of an organization being filled with people imbued with the confidence to–regardless of title or status–be leaderly.

We have a word that speaks directly to the terrible state of affairs of being, gulp, leaderless. But not one that speaks to the awesome state of affairs of being filled to the brim with people who–again regardless of title or status–can and will step up and lead.

On a day when the United States has been all but shut down due to a distinct lack of leadership on the part of our Capital ‘L’ Leaders, it seems fitting to look at the power of being leaderly. This power goes largely untapped and un-encouraged. Clearly, that needs to change.

The Importance of Being Leaderly

Awhile ago, I started using the term ‘leaderly’, e.g. “That was a tough situation and you handled it in a very leaderly fashion.” I make up words all the time so didn’t give much thought to this new addition to my personal lexicon. It’s a funny sounding word and therefore catchy. I noticed other people started using it. Again, I didn’t think much of it. People embraced ‘funective‘, so why not leaderly?

This week, I start teaching Strategic Marketing in Seattle University’s Master in Nonprofit Leadership program. So I’ve been thinking a lot about how marketing and language can help someone be more, um, leaderly.

Somehow, being leaderly doesn’t feel weighty enough. It lacks the gravitas we tend to append to all things having to do with leading and being in a leadership position. I mean, leaders are the the ones who “go before and with to show the way,” who “guide in direction, course, action, opinion, etc.” These people are serious. They have corner offices. Their smart phones are on over-drive. They are in a league of their own.

And therein lies the problem. We’ve elevated leadership to a level that makes us believe we can only achieve it if we can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Since only a scant number of people can do that, it’s easy to opt out.

This isn’t just a problem for one (word-obsessed) professor preparing for one class at one university.  This is language getting in our way in a seriously egregious manner. This is a fundamental issue that, I contend, is undermining our efforts, and ultimately our ability, to make the world a better place.

We may not all be Leaders, with a capital ‘L’. We may not have the right title or pay grade or a reserved parking spot. But we can all lead. We can all, in ways big and small, go before others, and with others, and guide them in direction, course, action and opinion.

There’s a difference between being a Capital ‘L’ Leader and being someone who leads. If we’re going to  make the world a better place, we need both. In spades. We need as many verbs, nouns and adjectives as possible to describe this idea of forward momentum, conviction, vision and execution.

It begs the question: how will you be leaderly today?



Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?