A leadership vacuum is when there is no dominant leader to take charge, or when the current identified or expected leader does not step up to lead.
This happens regularly in both our work and private lives. The boss has an idea and needs something researched, or maybe a community group needs coordination for a fund-raiser.
The leader’s response can be summed up in one word: volunteer.
Volunteer for the job. When something needs to be done, and no one steps forward to coordinate or work on it, step up and volunteer. That’s leadership. Of course, you then must work on the project, and must sometimes coordinate others to get it done, but the initial effort of volunteering is the leadership action. If you want to be a leader, volunteering is a habit you must practice and nurture.
From a young age, and in a variety of environments, I’ve volunteered for leadership positions. It’s not that I ever felt I was or am a great leader, but rather, if I saw a problem, I’ve always been eager to step forward to do what it takes to accomplish the goal. If that means leading or coordinating, then that’s what leadership looks like. In all cases, the genesis is a focus on a desire to get something done, and volunteering to get involved.
One early leadership experience I had was at the age of 16, and I was a budding hockey referee. I was assigned to be the junior referee for an important semi-pro game. It was already “above my pay grade” to have this particular assignment, so I felt fortunate to even be invited to ref the game. When I showed up, all three of the officials were junior. No one was in charge. “Uh-Oh,” we each thought. The person responsible for the game came into our locker room and asked who was the head referee. We all three looked at each other, and I can still see the fear in the eyes of the other officials. I spoke up and said I was the chief referee. At that moment, I took charge, and officiated the game with confidence. Maybe it was false confidence, but I’ve refereed thousands of games in my life, and I still remember the confidence I showed in that game. It surprised even me.
After that experience, I saw many opportunities to lead, and recognized that it all comes back to stepping up and volunteering. Wherever I was working, when my boss needed something done, big or small, I volunteered. That turned into my bosses giving me assignments with growing responsibilities. At age 39 I was chosen to lead a state electric utility organization, which was young for that job. I’ve been in leadership roles ever since.
When you see an opportunity to step forward to help get something done, however small or big, volunteer to do it. The habit you’re developing is leadership.