Small leaders with a big P; why leadership is public

Perhaps you know them from your own experience. From a job you once had, an organization where you are working a bit too hard, a football club where you are training. Or who knows even from the news you are reading: The big leaders who always manage to get into the spot light. Talking big money and getting things done, making great careers, letting other successful people be part of their own success (why give space to failure?). You may wonder sometimes, hearing their stories, what it really is all about? Perhaps even what their contribution is to making the world a better place, apart from all the material stuff for a happy few. We might call them “big leaders with a small P”. Those are the people who often are the leaders, because they want to be, for their own position.

Then, talk to others and ask them whom they see as the ones that truly make a difference in this world. The ones they consider to be an example of great leadership, focusing on a bigger purpose. If you would make a list, it’s probably a safe bet that people like Mandela, Ghandi, Obama and mother Theresa are on it. One by one inspiring people, who have achieved great things, often sacrificing themselves but being able to collect a lot of followers by acting as an example. Leadership for the public good. Those people we might call “big leaders with a big P”. And let’s be honest here; they inspire us, we need them, but they are also a bit out of our league.

That’s why we shouldn’t forget about all those others who on a daily basis work hard on making a difference, too. Those are the other ones we meet, wherever we go. Certainly, they often don’t make it to the news, but they do contribute to our neighbourhood, the classroom, the team at work, or just by providing a hand at the bus stop. By small and sometimes big initiatives that matter to all of us – and undoubtedly to themselves. But never for their own sake or the sake of success itself. Let’s call those people the “small leaders with a big P”. A big P for Purpose. And small, not because they matter less (on the contrary), but because they are the ordinary people – as we all are – who care for the things that simply matter to all of us.

Despite the distinction just made here, this is not about dividing between good and bad leaders. Rather, this is much more a plea for leadership, regardless the formal leader-roles. Leadership we all can show and often do – regardless if we are big or small leaders. That leadership is public leadership. It’s part of our lives – something we meet every day. Just sometimes we have to be more aware and dare a little more. Let’s use and elaborate this leadership, to make a difference, for the public good.

So, definitely, let’s not forget about ourselves and the role we play in leadership. Each in our own way we can be MAD; making a difference. Let’s contribute to the MAD movement. We don’t need to wait for the leaders. We can show public leadership with a big P.


– Ben Kuipers

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