We all have bad days, and it’s usually better to let go, let the memories of them disappear at the day’s end. It is always helpful, though, to spend time reflecting on what went wrong so that we can do things differently, better, the next time.

Last week, my friend Jen had a bad day. Jennifer is one the moms in our homeschool co-op.The group is multi-age, with students divided into four classes. We started with five families and have grown to 8; our group is now 22 children ages 6 months to 9 years, and 8 adults. We don’t have a designated leader. We each take responsibility for different areas, and usually everything runs smoothly.

Last Monday at our group, I was having a great time. My aim: have fun, get through the day. I didn’t have any teaching responsibilities, so I was relaxed to the point that I had my netbook computer out, checking work email. A few children in the group were out sick. Things were quiet. I had fun chatting with another mother, oblivious to any trouble brewing.

A few classrooms over, Jen struggled with inattentive kids and a clingy toddler. Later, she wondered aloud if all our effort and work is worthwhile. At the worst moments that day, she felt alone.

When a person on our team is having a bad day, it can be an indication that something is awry with the team. Jen certainly didn’t blame me, or anyone else, for her bad day. Yet, I spent all week trying to consider how I might have been able to help.

The conclusion I came to: being a leader takes concentrated effort and attention. When I stopped paying attention, I stopped being a leader to the group. While it’s normal to take it easy at times, if I want to make a significant difference in how our group is functioning, I need to be intentional about how I direct my energy.

Intentionality seems particularly important in situations where there is no positional leader. At work, there is a tacit understanding of who to go to when things go wrong. We may be disappointed with the response we get from our superiors, but our expectations are in line with their positions.

In a group without a clear-cut leader, there may be an implicit understanding of who the leaders are. If you are in that situation, you still have a choice about leading. As part of our co-op, I can choose to step forward and direct the group, or I can choose to coast. My decision affects the group’s success, the children’s experience, and my own satisfaction with my performance.

Deciding to lead is like getting dressed. It requires thought and action. I can put on my leader clothes, or leave them at home.

Not everyone wants to be a leader. Not everyone wants the responsibilities and difficulties that come with leadership. In many ways, though, I have accepted that role and responsibility in our group. In doing so, I have commited myself to being there as a leader. Being there as a leader includes presence in both my thoughts and my actions.

This week, I arrived at co-op with a very different attitude: fully dressed, ready for the day. I directed my focus to observe the needs of the group and work to meet them. My objective: to lead by serving the group and encouraging others. My experience of the day was much different too; I enjoyed the day with fewer personal distractions and left knowing I had done all I could to support the efforts of the team.

For me, one of the benefits of leadership is the fulfillment of a job well done. As we wind up our school year, I am pleased with what our group has accomplished. Our children have had rich learning experiences. They have grown closer in their friendships. They have created beautiful art projects, acted out scenes from history and literature, learned words and phrases from around the world, played new games, tasted new foods.

We have accomplished this together, and every person’s contribution has been valuable to the group. We have had many more good days than bad, and the bad days are a distant memory, fading in the sunlight of a brand new day.

This post was originally published at Mountain State University Leadertalk and is republished here with permission.