I Am Not a Leader (or So I Thought)

This is a guest post by Tammy Helfrich. She is a wife, mom, and writer. She currently works for a Fortune 500 company and helps customers implement new processes. You can read her blog or follow her on Twitter.

“I don’t have a leader title.”

“I don’t have anyone who reports to me.”

“I don’t have experience leading people.”

Light Bulb Illustrating Leadership - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/shulz, Image #7320959

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/shulz

I used to say these things, as an excuse. I used to say I am not a leader. I used to believe I was not a leader.And do you know what happens when you believe that? You’re lying to yourself.

For most of my life, people had told me that I was a good example for others. But I didn’t always believe it. I often kept people at arm’s length. I didn’t allow them in. I didn’t want to get involved in their stories. That required work.

I have discovered over the years that even though I never wanted a leader title, I was a leader to my peers. I worked hard, and I had good relationships. I always did above and beyond what my job required. I got to know my leaders. I kept a positive attitude. I led by example.

In his book, The 360 Degree Leader, John Maxwell talks about the circle of influence you have. Sometimes people within the middle of an organization have more power than those with leadership titles.

I started paying attention to this. I started conversations with leaders at all levels of our organization. I didn’t have a hidden agenda. I simply wanted to learn and let them know I was with them—I believed in them. I wanted to learn from them.

John Maxwell says,

What matters is that we are willing to do what it takes, to make a positive impact wherever we find ourselves in life—to add value in any way we can to others.”

I believe we can all do this. We can be a leader, regardless of what our title says.

How can you be a leader? There are five tactics.

  1. Take ownership. Be responsible for your work. You own the work that you do. You own your processes. When you do this, people start to notice, and you can help lead others to do the same.
  2. Lead by example. Actions speak louder than words. Be the positive voice within your department, rather than the negative one. Encourage others to look at situations with a positive energy.
  3. Talk to leaders in your organization. Don’t expect anything in return. You will be amazed at how many leaders are willing to talk to you. Not only do they want to hear your ideas, but they are typically more than happy to share what has worked for them.
  4. Offer ideas, don’t just report a problem. Be sure to offer a solution. Many of the best solutions to a company’s challenges come from the middle of an organization. Why? Because these are the people who know what truly happens on a day-to-day basis. Leaders who are willing to listen can often create change with the right ideas and solutions.
  5. Encourage coworkers and leaders. Most people will encourage their coworkers. They work side-by-side with them. However, leaders rarely get encouragement, and it can get very lonely at the top. Showing them you care and you are with them really helps. I have been absolutely amazed at the positive responses I have had from leaders who took my encouragement to heart.

You are a leader. Believe you are a leader. Take a small step forward today. You will be amazed at what a difference it will make.

Question: How have you led—apart from your title? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://twitter.com/cupojoegirl Eileen Knowles

    Great to see you here, Tammy!   “I am not a leader.”  I used to tell myself the same lie.  The truth is, I don’t have the gift of leadership but I have found myself in leadership roles all the time over the past decade.  I love that John Maxwell quote, “to make a positive impact wherever we find ourselves in life”.  I think that is so true.  When we make that our goal then by default we can be leaders for the lives around us.  

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      Thanks, Eileen! I try to focus on the same thing.

  • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

    Thank you for having me on the blog, Michael! I am honored. I appreciate your leadership.

  • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

    Thank you for having me on the blog, Michael! I am honored. I appreciate your leadership.

  • Jeremiah Zeiset

    Tammy, thank-you for sharing this article. I’ve had numerous people working for me in the past, and I’ve been fortunate to have leaders at all levels work for me. I’ve also had those who simply were the opposite. The reality is that the leaders, those who recognized that they could make a difference, were happier, fulfilled, and accomplished way more than those who thought they couldn’t make a difference. 

    We need more leaders on every level.

    Thank-you!

    Jeremiah Zeiset

    LIFE SENTENCE Publishing

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      Thanks, Jeremiah. I agree. We need more leaders at every level.

  • http://www.DavidASpecht.com/ David A Specht

    In my life, I had somewhat of the opposite circumstance. As the son of the owner of the company, people naturally looked to me for answers, whether I was capable of giving them or not. Others “wrote me off” because they thought I had been given my job through nepotism. Still others were wary of me, thinking I was there to eventually take their position.

    In order to survive, and thrive, I worked really hard to build relationships with all my coworkers, while learning every aspect of their jobs, whether or not it had anything to do with mine.

    I made sure that I arrived to work early, left late and worked really hard while I was there. Eventually people began to respect me for my work ethic, and the learning helped me be the leader many saw anyway.

  • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

    Thank you for having me on the blog, Michael! I am honored. I appreciate your leadership.

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

    I’m a reader, not a leader, assuming that’s possible. 

  • http://www.ericdingler.com/ Eric Dingler

    I believe one of the  most important (if not the most important) leadership axiom is; More is caught than is taught. I don’t know who first said it or the context, but it’s so true and important.  Living your life by this axiom makes you a leader/influencer in every situation and station in life.  Marriage, parenting and/or the workplace.  My family knows I love them by HOW I treat them.  My team knows what’s important to me by what I ask and what I focus my efforts on.  They also know the matter based on how I treat them.  

    Your words should be a mirror of your actions, not a bandaid.  You know what, I’m going to tweet that, lol.  

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      I agree!

      • http://www.ericdingler.com/ Eric Dingler

        Thanks.  I really enjoyed your post.  I then enjoyed exploring your blog.  Thank you for sharing.

  • http://twitter.com/peggylou74 Peggy Salvatore

    If you are a parent, you are a leader.

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      That is so true. I am continually seeing how my boys follow my lead, even when I don’t say anything.

  • http://twitter.com/cupojoegirl Eileen Knowles

    Great to see you here, Tammy!   “I am not a leader.”  I used to tell myself the same lie.  The truth is, I don’t have the gift of leadership but I have found myself in leadership roles all the time over the past decade.  I love that John Maxwell quote, “to make a positive impact wherever we find ourselves in life”.  I think that is so true.  When we make that our goal then by default we can be leaders for the lives around us.  

  • http://twitter.com/CRoyseNiles Christine Niles

    You’re absolutely right, Tammy.  I had great results doing these things at my corporate job, too (especially in connecting with the very few women in the organization that were above me).  What I forgot, though, was that this applies outside the corporate environment, too.  Since jumping to working for a non-profit and for myself, I’ve forgotten to be intentional in most of these areas.  Thanks for the reminder!

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      So true, Christine. I believe it applies in everything we do.

  • http://www.toddliles.com/ Todd Liles

    I love my church, and want to be a leader there. To demonstrate my desire, I volunteered where there is a need. The children’s daycare. It has turned out to be a great place to lead by example. :-)

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      So true! Leading in our churches is such a great way to impact others.

  • http://www.frymonkeys.com Alan Kay

    Thanks Tammy. Folks often equate leadership with the icons – Lincoln, Churchill, Mother Teresa and so on. Those folks inspired people to go to extraordinary places. It’s hard to teach that kind of leadership. However, leadership can be learned when it’s about influence, teamwork, effective delegation, coaching, collaboration, etc.

    A tool I use in my work is to ask people to rank their leadership capabilities on a scale of 1-10 and then talk about what pleases them most about those skills – regardless of the number. It begins the process of becoming consciously competent in leadership.

  • http://twitter.com/hope_harris Hope Harris

    great thoughts Tammy.  How we live is the the way we lead!   What I do when no one is watching matters.  How I treat those who matter the least counts.  This is leading without a title

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

      I agree. Perhaps how we treat those that “seem” to matter least is the most important thing we do.

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      So true. Thanked, Hope.

  • http://twitter.com/bbasilico Brian Basilico

    Tammy… Great post.  You are a leader on so many levels and your blog is just blossoming! Keep up the great work, positive thoughts and thanks for all you do! 

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      Thanks, Brian!

  • http://unknownjim.com/ Jim Woods

    Tammy, for years I never believed I was a leader. I lacked the confidence to lead. But now I realize I was just viewing leadership as a one-size-fits-all term. There are MANY different kinds of leaders. Once I learned about servant leadership (and saw it in action), I learned that my original definition of leadership was wrong. 

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      I agree. Servant leadership is huge.

  • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

    I love this, Tammy. I like how you started with taking ownership. It is something we need to do with every aspect of our life. Nothing will change as long as we blame others and wait for them to change it. Own it even if it isn’t your fault or your responsibility.

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      Thanks, Jeremy. Ownership is key.

  • Marcia Ramsland

    This is true whether in a business though also in a volunteer situation in the community or a church. Even as Entrepreneurs who work solo. There is always a network to influence positively and Tammy said it so well. Thanks Tammy!

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      Volunteering is a great area for leadership.

  • http://twitter.com/PromisesFC PromisesFinancialCch

    You are so right Tammy. Brilliant reminders

  • http://JaredLatigo.com/ Jared Latigo

    I would add that we have to be willing to serve. We can’t be a leader if we aren’t willing to serve others in order to get to that position. Plus, it will help us to achieve a level of humility and show others how this whole leadership thing really works. 

    Great post, excited to see you here!

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      That is a great addition that I firmly believe in. Serving is a great way to stay humble.

    • Altawipedrosteca

      Thanks Jared Latigo for sharing this beautifulideas, It remind me Norbeto Odebrecht in his wok philosophy he speaks about the leaders character mainly the spirit of serving and being served, to be humble, in any problem find opportunity to teach.thanks.

  • http://www.ordinaryservant.com/ Pilar Arsenec

    Great post Tammy!!

  • http://www.RobTrenckmann.com/ Rob Trenckmann

    I once read that if you don’t feel like a leader, but need to lead, ask yourself the question, “What would a leader do in this situation?”  Then, you start acting like a leader.

  • Debbie

    This is a great post. I once had a Sr. VP tell me that he had not heard the truth from anyone since he became a VP. I think that good leaders are sometimes hungry to hear from those in their organization who might just really have something constructive to say — someone who cares and doesn’t want something in return.

    I also think that personal responsibility too often gets forgotten in our day-to-day. This was a great reminder post. Thank you.

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      So true. I have had high level leaders tell me the same thing.

  • http://gauraw.com/ Kumar Gauraw

    Hello Tammy,

    I completely can relate to this article as I used to think the same way though I never spoke it (Thank God). Even though I did not believed in myself, I always spoke what I wanted to be into assistance and interestingly I didn’t yet know the power of spoken words.

    But now as I look back, I, unknowingly did not let that feeling of insecurity take over me because I always spoke against that and somehow, what I spoke showed better results.

    Slowly but surely the leader within me took over and then others started to believe in me and my abilities as well. Wow! What an amazing power in words that we use.

    I loved these 5 techniques that you shared. I think the key is to follow these principles and more than anything else, speaking what we want into existence, not what we already have ( which might be actually a problem).

    Thank you for sharing!

  • Rhonda Adler

     

    I just had
    the opportunity to finish a 3 month internship in Human Resources at an organization
    of around 160 people. The morale was very low. There was an “us vs. them”
    mentality. Union vs. Non-Union, vs. Management, (It was ugly.) People walked
    around with their heads down so they would not have to make eye contact.

     I made it my personal goal to change the environment.
    I started by making a point of greeting everyone by name with a warm genuine smile.
    As days went on I would inquire about pictures on desks, ask about the “Duck” t-shirts
    they were wearing, or ask different people to go grab a cup of coffee during
    break and made small talk. I tried to get on a personal level with everyone
    possible. I started bringing in beautiful cut flowers from my garden (with a
    $1.00 vase from Goodwill) for two people each week to recognize for them for something
    they had done or to show appreciation for something they did.(EVERYONE LOVED
    THEM!) I continued the tradition each week while I was there. It really only
    took a few weeks and I started getting comments like, “things sure are
    different since you’ve been here.” “You are our ray of sunshine.” What I
    noticed was that people started walking with their heads up. At first people
    would try to get past me without saying hi, but I would follow them and engage
    them in conversation so they had to interact with me. My last week was pretty
    sad. Even the City Manager, said “where are you going? Where did you come from?”
    LOL!

     I think they had got in such a rut and they
    needed someone to come in and lead by example how to interact and treat each
    other how they want to be treated. It was a great experience! I’ll cherish it
    always.

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      That is awesome! What a great example that I can relate to. People think they can’t make a difference, but small things really do. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://KatieAxelson.com/ Katie Axelson

    Great post, Tammy. I especially love the last one. Leaders need encouragement just like the rest of us do. It’s fun to watch their faces light up as you genuinely compliment them.

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      I love the surprise looks as well. People often don’t think to encourage up the chain of command.

      • http://KatieAxelson.com/ Katie Axelson

        Well, it’s hard to do. It often looks like you’re schmoozing. 

        • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

          I used to think that too. However, I think you leaders can tell when you are being authentic.

  • SanDiegoBob

    How have I led?  I like to tackle problems head on.  

    A character flaw I have is impatience at having to deal with the same problem over and over and over.  

    Although I haven’t always made the right decision, I have learned that very few problems solve themselves and the ones that don’t  seem to get worse due to inaction.  I will say that people aren’t always happy with my answers but I have noticed that, over time, those same people tend to look to me for this kind of leadership when it is needed.   

    My rules for solving problems are: 
    1.) Identify the immediate problem 
    2.) get input from people that are willing to give it 
    3.) choose a solution that fixes the immediate problem 
    4.) find out why it happened and take steps to keep it from reoccurring and finally 5.) give credit to the team for helping to fix things.   

    Sometimes, if the problem is more immediate (for example, the building is on fire) you have to skip #2.  

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      Great action items. Thanks!

  • Howtobeyou

    Hi I lead by example. I looked for someone to be my role model couldn’t find one so I created the woman I wanted to be in a book I was writing, and over time I became her. I have noticed people follow my lead even though I don’t intend to lead rather I guide them to doing what is right for them. Hope this helps

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      That sounds interesting. Did you publish your book?

  • http://twitter.com/RyanNjugi Ryan Njugi

    Your articles have always been an inspiration to me. Nice piece!

  • http://twitter.com/Andrew_Conant Andrew J. Conant

     Clearly, we are either leading upwards or downwards. The people who lead downwards are the first ones to go when business slows down.

  • Allure814

    Nice, motivating message.

  • http://www.NateAnglin.com/ Nate Anglin

    Leaders look beyond themselves and are a network of collaboration and inspiration. They know the recipe of working with others to serve a bigger purpose. That purpose may be within a department or running a country, but it can be used anywhere. Leadership is intrinsically the success of working with others. 

    As you mentioned it can be lonely at the top, so leaders at all levels is necessary. 

    Great post…thank you!

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      Collaboration is so important. Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/AdventureCarrie Carrie Starr

    My husband and I teach a college course on leadership.  Most of our students do not consider themselves leaders.  Our mission by the end of the semester is to help them understand that leadership is influence, and a title is not required to influence others. Leadership is available to each of us if we choose it.  Thanks for sharing Tammy!

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      That’s awesome. Helping students understand that they are leaders is so important to their future.

  • http://www.indueseason.net skottydog

    We all lead on some level, whether we realize it or not. Everyone watches everyone else in the workplace, and we all feed off of each other. Something as simple as coming into work with a smile on your face is a form of leadership. It sets the tone for the day, as others follow your lead. On the flip side of that, when we come to work grumpy or miserable, it sets a negative tone as well.

    Attitiude is a subtle form of leadership, without needing a title or job description attached to it.

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      I definitely agree!!

  • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

    Wow, great post Tammy. These are excellent ways to lead when you have no title, I especially like leading by example. Actions speak lounder then words.

  • http://www.thadthoughts.com/ Thad Puckett

    I think people frequently overlook the influence they actually possess.  They may believe themselves to NOT be leaders, and miss the negative influence they can have on a team or a company.  Leadership is influence, good or bad. We all have influence.

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      I agree, Thad. People tend to understestimate their influence.

  • http://www.tessahardiman.com/ Tessa

    Happy to see Tammy posting here!

    I really like the part about being positive in your workplace. It’s easy to try and “just make it through the day” when you aren’t working in your dream job. However, you really make an impact on people when they see your positive attitude. 

  • Maoojelabi

    Less about me, focus on topic please. 
    At 15, working as a clerk in a corporation, while waiting for college admission , the admin mgr. was suddenly fired one mid-day. He was given his check, and made to drop his official car in the park. He said good-bye to the staff, carried his bag, and made for the exit. Everybody was looking at him with concern but did nothing. I jumped out of my seat, collected his bag, and walked him to a taxi cab. The MD and my manager separately called for commendation, and later gave me a raise. I led my group throughout my stay. 
    It always pay off  in the end to “make a positive impact wherever we find ourselves in life”.   

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      That’s a great example.

    • http://www.clayproductions.com/aaron/ Aaron Johnson

       It sure is. Makes me want to be aware of how to lead by serving others today.

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  • http://josephiregbu.com/ Joseph Iregbu

    Awesome!

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      I love that! “who we are when we step out and live the life we are wired for” Thanks, Joseph!

  • virginiadavidson

    I used to feel I wasn’t a leader because I don’t like telling people what to do.  I have a hard enough time knowing what *I’m* supposed to do!  I have to see the big picture and understand the “why” of things. 

    Then there are spots where I realize I *am* a leader!  Why?–not because I’m trying to get people to follow me, but because I’m not following someone else.   I *do* try to see that big picture, and understanding the “why” actually makes a difference in real life…and that helps other people, too.So yes–it’s not a responsibility I asked for, but I see the importance of recognizing it for what it is.  Thanks for the reminder.

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      That’s a great point.

  • http://morethanadventure.com/ Kurt Swann

    Hi Tammy!

    Great post! I think what you say about “I am not a leader . . .” also applies to other areas of life.  I often hear people make similar comments such as, “I am not an investor . . . or public speaker . . . or tech person . . . or health/fitness person . . .or teacher.” I’m sure  you can think of other examples where we say, “I’m not this or that . . .” But those comments all seem to revolve around the points you make about how we can either make excuses or take ownership and responsibility.  

    For example, maybe we’re not officially a “public speaker” but we do talk to people in small groups or speak up during meetings etc. So, in our own way, we’re all “public speakers” but it’s just a matter of whether we make excuses about it or take responsibility.  

    Or our business cards may not say “investor”  but we all have money flowing in and out of our lives.  And like being a leader we can either make excuses or take responsibility.  

    Also, enjoyed looking at your blog!  :) 

    Kurt

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      Great point, Kurt. I have said similar things in the past. I’m learning to stop saying “I’m not” and challenge myself to think differently. Thanks!

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  • http://www.johncmaxwellgroup.com/daveleingang/ Dave Leingang

    Each one of us are leaders. If you that think that you are not a leader, then reflect how satisfied you are with your life. Are you happy, or do you struggle with unproductive habits?
    Everyone is a leader to some extent, if you struggle leading others, start by leading yourself better, and then others will start to follow you.

  • http://www.CFinancialFreedom.com Dr. Jason Cabler

    You’re absolutely right, Tammy.  We can all be leaders no matter what our position.  Even the guy with the stop sign at the construction site or the one on the back of the trash truck.

    It all comes down to what kind of attitude you choose to have, and how helpful and hard working you choose to be.  The only barrier to leadership is making the choice within yourself to be one.

    Great to see you here!  Hopefully you’ll be reading one of my guest articles here in the future.

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      Our attitude really does make a big difference.

  • http://www.pauljolicoeur.com/ Paul Jolicoeur

    Every day we have the opportunity to influence others in a positive way. When we do, we are leading well. I can think of some times when I have been with a group of people and action needed to be taken but no one was stepping up to make something happen. It just takes one person to step up, suggest an action and move towards it.

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      You are right! It only takes one action or step.

    • http://www.clayproductions.com/aaron/ Aaron Johnson

      Paul, I was recently reading M. Scott Peck’s, Road Less Traveled and he quoted an Army General who said something similar, that the biggest problem he saw in his top-level leaders was that many would stare at problems and never address them – and these were senior leaders! I love your statement that it just takes one person to take some courage to suggest an action and make a move. It’s often just that simple

  • http://www.chaplainmike.com/ Mike Hansen

    Someone I hardly know made an appointment with me to ask some professional advise recently. We ended up spending 2 hours together and I found myself give more than just professional advice. This was man probably 10 years younger than I, trying to find himself in the midst of busy ministry and clinging to a young marriage. I left that meeting realizing, I am a leader of other men. I’ve been told that before and I still have a hard time believing it fully, but it’s true.

    Something I have realized is (and I believe you articulate well) is while we may not be a leader in one specific area, we can lead in others. We shouldn’t limit ourselves to being a leader in a few-or only one-contexts.

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      So true. We never know who we are influencing through our actions.

  • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

    I’ve been commenting on several leadership blogs.  I often tell others that I’m more of an “influencer” than a leader.  Yes, I am a leader.  As a teacher, I must be.  But I don’t see myself as a “formal” leader, but rather one who subtly leads and helps others from a modest position on the sidelines.  My writing is something I’m working on as a form of “influence” that is subtle, but may have long-term and a snowball effect over time.  I am a leader.

    • http://www.clayproductions.com/aaron/ Aaron Johnson

       Your leadership is evident in your comments and by the example you are leading for many of us as you raise your daughter. Always appreciate your influence here, Dan :)

      • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

        Ah, you’re a good listener, Aaron.  You’ve noted the comments that include my daughter.  Thanks for your encouragement and support.

    • http://www.NateAnglin.com/ Nate Anglin

       You are a leader ;-)!

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      I think that’s so true. Many of us are influencers, but I also think that’s a form of leadership. I think it can sometimes be more effective than those with the actual formal title.

      • http://www.clayproductions.com/aaron/ Aaron Johnson

         I agree, Tammy. I think people feel a greater freedom to respond to who we are, rather than a position or amount of authority. Titles have benefits, too, but I think it’s significant that Jesus, in his leadership, didn’t seem to care much for them.

  • http://www.clayproductions.com/aaron/ Aaron Johnson

    I’ve noticed when I focus on first leading myself, that others notice my practices and get interested. One lately has been the processes I use to structure my day, my rest, and how I organize my files. When someone asks about a report or an article, and you can pull it out in 30 seconds, they ask “How did you do that?” The result has been that our small office is now adopting some shared productivity methods. 

    • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

      Great point, Aaron. Being organized is a great way to lead. Productivity is so important, as well as rest and structuring our days.