Finding unlikely leaders in your workplace

Marty at the summit

Marty, the charming and commanding mascot of the Mount Washington Observatory, is the only permanent resident atop Mount Washington. He reigns over the mountain and the many visitors he meets, providing leadership traits that aren’t always present in humans. On our recent visit, he escorted me and my husband around the summit, and I couldn’t believe my luck that he sat for seconds, facing the brisk wind, strategically placed in front of the historic summit sign. But then again, he knew what he was doing — creating a picture that captured his stature as King Cat of the Mountain.

Leaders have a “look.” It’s the title they hold, the command they have with others, how they work a crowd, or that they are simply at ease when making a tough decision. We know when we’re in the presence of a strong leader.

But there are unlikely leaders in your organization that are providing quiet, but significant guidance, inspiration, or influence to those they work with. The problem is that we undervalue the impact of those that aren’t in traditional leadership positions. And we overlook the possibility of leadership capacity by those that don’t have the “look” that we’re accustomed to.

Marty, the charming and commanding Mount Washington Observatory mascot (or should that be mascat), is just that type of leader. As the only permanent resident atop the summit of Mount Washington, he is clear about his role of King of the Mountain. He’s not arrogant. He’s confident. He knows what he wants and how to get it. It is unmistakable about where he wants to go or when he wants something; he provides direction in his authoritative way. But he is just as at ease displaying compassion and playfulness. These key leadership traits came naturally for him.

Marty on watch

Marty waited patiently for more than an hour in the fog for my husband and I to return to the summit after our walk. He could have returned indoors if he wanted, but I know he waited to escort his guests back. He understands the value of shepherding those under his watch.

But who in their right mind would call a cat a leader? That would be ludicrous to some people. Yet, why not? The dictionary definition of leader is someone who ‘guides, leads, or inspires.’  Marty sure did that and more. It’s not just because he’s cute, either. Not everyone likes cats. Marty knows that. And he could care less — just like a strong leader realizes that he can’t please everyone all the time. Regardless of how someone feels about him, he goes about being who he is, true to himself and lets others follow along. And they do. They understand his power.

The brave men and women who serve in our military provide another example for us. We are grateful for the talented and distinguished generals and commanders in our armed forces throughout history, including present day. We need them. Yet, there are many, many more individuals that we don’t know about, who have served in quiet and profound ways. They save lives, they fight for the ideals that our country stands for, providing direction and leadership in their everyday work. We need them, too. And we thank them on this Memorial Day.

Marty at the office

Marty stays on top of the ongoing operations of the weather station.

Effective leaders can come from any place within the organization. They don’t need a corner office or a fancy title. They create results when they bring their authentic self to others. Individuals who understand their strengths and natural work style can more easily provide effective leadership. Marty knows that. And so does everyone who knows Marty.

Our workplaces can be so much more by encouraging and recognizing all leaders, especially those from unlikely places.

Who are the unlikely leaders in your organization? In what ways have you expressed your gratitude?

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  1. Judy Ringer on May 24, 2013 at 8:54 am

    Hi Robin,

    It’s so true that there are leaders among us everywhere that don’t necessarily hold a title. And it is helpful to have them in our workplaces, communities, and families. Thank you for a great story. I love Marty!

    • Robin on May 24, 2013 at 8:57 am

      Thanks, Judy, for these words. It really is helpful to have these quiet leaders, isn’t it? I love Marty, too, he’s fabulous. (And he knows it!)

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