A recent conversation with a leader at a professional firm about why great leaders do what they do got my attention. It went something like this:

Me: It sounds like we agree that people in your position have a huge impact on client satisfaction and the satisfaction of the project teams you lead. What one thing could you and your peers do differently that would make the biggest difference to project team outcomes and staff satisfaction?
Him: The firm should change its compensation and reward policies so that we’re motivated to do the right things.
Me: That would be good, but if that weren’t possible, what behaviors from you and your peers would make the biggest difference?
Him: The firm should give us better support systems (IT,etc.) so that we have time to do these things.
Me (getting exasperated): I know YOU do a lot of these effective leadership behaviors already even though the firm doesn’t particularly support them. So let’s not focus on what THEY should do. What about you and your peers?
Him: Well, I do those things because I want to, even though it costs me personally…

The simple thought struck me: Leadership – getting work done with people so that they’re more capable and motivated to do it again next time – is a choice. You can dictate and reward and track management behaviors – following correct processes, procedures, and policies. But leadership comes from somewhere else, from somewhere deeper and more personal than a firm handbook.

How about you? What makes you choose (or not choose) to play the leadership role where you work?