One of the most valuable bits of advice imparted to me by a former boss came with her thick southern drawl in response to my lamenting an issue with our organization’s culture, “Gita, you need to lead from where you sit.”
Simple as her advice was, it has become a mantra in my life. I did not take it as a call to be less ambitious, nor to imagine that I will change an entire organization. I took the advice to heart as a call to behave in my professional life with the highest level of integrity and a pragmatic optimism.
This concept of using your agency, even when it seems insignificant, can be incredibly powerful. Following this method, I have been able to influence organizational culture through campaigns and fundraising in ways that would not have been possible. When you learn to lead, even from the side, you’ll be surprised what can be achieved.
When we see an issue in an organization that we care about, perhaps in its culture or a gap in capacity, it’s our opportunity to lead by example. As Gandhi is often (mis)quoted, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”
Gandhi’s actual quote is, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.”
The world often meets us on the level that we address it. If we complain and allow our work to suffer because of frustration, then nothing will improve. But, if we instead rise above the fray to lead by how we treat each other and how we comport ourselves professionally, perhaps change is possible. The organizational ship may move only incrementally, perhaps imperceptibly. Change or not, we can know that we have done our best and delivered on our role with integrity and courage.