Office of Culture and Experience

Leadership is Personal, Not Positional

May 25, 2017 • Leadership

In Julie Foudy’s new book “Choose to Matter,” the former captain of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team writes about her misperception that leadership was a function of one’s job title. A CEO is a leader, her thinking went, or a president, or a person in a position of power.

But her teammates on the national team showed her that leadership is personal in nature, not positional.

“My teammates showed me that asserting your own leadership style is most important – being authentically you,” Foudy writes. “You could be a quiet leader like Mia Hamm, a vocal leader like Abby Wambach, an emotional leader like Brandi Chastain, a cerebral leader, a nerdy leader — you get it. You just have to find your unique approach, your way.”

Authenticity, of course, is a key component in leadership. And it’s one I think about frequently, in part because I don’t feel as if the mantle of leadership comes naturally to me.

What does come naturally to me, in some cases for better and in others for worse, are the following qualities: irreverence, loyalty, skepticism, caring, hard work, a sense of fun, fairness and a passion for learning.

My own personal style of leadership must incorporate those qualities, or I risk being inauthentic and ineffective. It’s not important to me that my team share all of these qualities, but it is critical that they know I am genuine.

As a leader, it’s my job to help us reach smart solutions, but it’s just as critical to create an environment where my team feels valued, where we demonstrate care for one another, where we surround ourselves with the right people and where we work toward a common cause.

Eight years ago, when I worked for a manager and a company that didn’t share these values, I was in the midst of a personal crisis of the worst kind. My infant son was diagnosed with a terminal brain disorder. My company’s leadership offered neither flexibility nor a great deal of meaningful compassion.

As a result, I wasn’t able to attend a subsequent doctor’s appointment where we learned our son, in addition to his other health problems, was also blind. Not being present for my family in that moment remains a lifelong regret and was a catalyst for my career change.

Flash forward to the present day, where I’m part of a team that has several members facing various personal crises: a medically fragile child, a recently laid-off spouse, a cancer scare, a dying husband, personal health problems. The list goes on.

But UNTHSC – and my small corner of it – is different than my previous job. At a recent staff meeting to discuss one of our largest team projects of the year, one of my teammates said he was hustling to finish his assignments as quickly as possible. His reason: So that he could take as much work as possible off the plate of another co-worker, who is in the midst of personal tragedy.

That’s genuine leadership, and it makes me inordinately proud to be a part of this particular team.

Jeff Carlton

Media Relations Director

2017 HSC Fellows Candidate