The Fine Art of Subtle Leadership

Charlotte Ashley Houser
J.D. Candidate, 2019
The University of Tennessee College of Law

To be honest, I have always thought about leadership in the traditional, in-your-face manner often associated with the movers and shakers of each generation. The ones who lead the charge without hesitation and whose extraverted nature can often daunt or annoy those with more introverted tendencies. The expected leader with his or her strong personality and almost unyielding energy that allows him/her to run organizations or take point in group efforts or lead with such voracity than the only natural conclusion would be that he/she is the leader. But despite the strong promotional efforts, the traditional leader does not stand alone.

During my first year of law school, I was introduced to the concept of the everyday leader by a Drew Dudley Ted Talk shown in the Lawyers as Leaders course at UTK Law (The Drew Dudley video may be found here: Leadership Content). I was absolutely shocked that I had not thought about leadership in the context of seemingly small acts of kindness, especially as everyday acts of kindness become harder and harder to find in our increasingly disconnected world. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it is the everyday leader that should be emulated rather than the made-for-television traditional leader. From the co-worker who offers to help you meet a deadline because they recognize that you are behind after your child or dog or [insert important companion here] was unexpectedly ill to the classmate in the first year class who sent you notes on a day that you missed, the everyday leader acts with kindness, compassion, and integrity, even though they know they will likely never receive recognition for their acts of leadership. Some of these quiet, everyday leaders may not even recognize that they are leaders because the social conception of a leader aligns more with the traditional leader. However, this subtle leadership style is truly something to lauded and appreciated and I implore you to recognize the subtle leaders in your life.

This is not to say that we should stop supporting and encouraging our traditional leaders, but rather we should encourage and recognize all types of leadership styles as a means to encourage more widespread leadership practices. For in the words of Roger Miller, “it takes all kinds to make a world.”

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