The Roles of "Big L" and "Little l" Leaders

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Right now, who do you think is responsible for your company's success? You may think it's the CEO, or your boss, or your boss's boss. But I want to make the case that it's you. And to do that, I have to make a distinction between big L Leadership, and little l leadership. Big L Leadership refers to the Leadership exercised at or near the top of large organizations of all kinds. Those high level executives make decisions that influence everyone in the organization.

And these leadership roles are absolutely critical to the success of the organization, and to the success of teaming. It includes developing the right organizational culture, and setting the kinds of clear direction, that others can rally around, to work together, to achieve their goals. But let's think about little l leadership for a moment. This is the kind of leadership that you exercise when you're working together to get something done with other people. It's about creating the conditions to help make complex, interdependent work get done, as well as you possibly can.
In small l leadership, people who are in the thick of working together, are trying to ensure that they can team effectively. Sometimes, that leadership involves formal responsibility for a project, or a department, or a region. But at other times, you're simply the one who sees an opportunity to lead and you act upon it. So where do you fit in? Are you a big L Leader, or a small l leader?And are you exercising the leadership that you can, in those moments where someone can see something that needs to be done, and jump in to make it go better.

This course emphasizes the necessity of leadership behavior throughout the organization, top to bottom. This is how you bring about the new ways of working, upon which the success of your company, and everybody's company today, fully depends. So whether it's big or little l, leadership is an absolutely essential function in helping people manage the challenges of teaming, and learning, and executing, all at the same time. As we will see, teaming involves taking risks, technical risks, and interpersonal risks.


The nature of teaming, is that the work is not and can not be scripted in advance. It's impossible to get everything right the first time around, failures are inevitable. The only real failure, is failing to learn from them. This means that each and every one of us have the opportunity to exercise leadership at different points in time. No matter where you sit, there's something you can do to make the work go better, to make the teaming work better.

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