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#NinjaLeadership: What Leadership Means to Office Ninjas

Read the Full #NinjaLeadership Series:
Intro | Joanne Linden | Melissa Smith | Crystal Le | Takeaways

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” You see this quote from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (aka Channing Tatum’s speech at the end of its film adaptation She’s the Man) in practically every generic article you read about leadership. The article goes like this: a reference to Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi or Winston Churchill, a list of traits we like in our leaders—communicative, perceptive, knowledgeable, brave, compassionate, etc.—and finally a few simple steps that everyone can take to become a better leader. That’s all there is to leadership, right?

The problem with this write-up on leadership (in addition to being generic) is that it assumes that only people in an acknowledged place of power—the CEOs, politicians, activists and celebrities of the world—are the only real leaders (that matter). They’re the ones saving/killing the world, after all!

So how can the rest of us follow this advice to be a great leader like Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi or Winston Churchill if we aren’t saving/killing the world? **Cue cricket noises.**

The fact is that how our culture thinks of leadership—especially in the workforce—is all wrong. Leaders aren’t heroes—they are everyday people doing their jobs and doing them well.

Where the Real Power Resides

President Barack Obama delivers remarks announcing Denis McDonough as his Chief of Staff, replacing Jack Lew, the President’s nominee for Treasury Secretary, in the East Room of the White House, Jan. 25, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert)
President Barack Obama delivers remarks announcing Denis McDonough as his Chief of Staff, replacing Jack Lew, the President’s nominee for Treasury Secretary, in the East Room of the White House, Jan. 25, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert)

Ever hear of “power behind the throne”? The President of the United States’ may be the most powerful person in the world, but she or he can’t run the country and lead the world alone. That’s why they rely on their Chief of Staff (formerly called the Assistant to the President and the President’s private secretary). The Chief of Staff—responsible for both managerial and advisory roles—is known as the Gatekeeper to the President and the de facto second in command at the White House, though the Chief of Staff has no legal powers.

Sound a bit familiar? Office Ninjas know that though power may come from the top, leadership can come from anywhere. And as the gatekeepers of their company, Ninjas know that they are more than the perceptions around their job title.

Rethinking Leadership

Ninjas presenting an innovative idea to the panel of judges at the Chaminade #NinjaRetreat.

In our new leadership series, we seek to rethink what leadership means when you aren’t the one in charge (officially). How can you be a good leader when you aren’t the leader? Are you a different type of leader than our culture’s go-to examples? Is there a generational divide on what makes a good leader? Most importantly, we want to learn what leadership means to Office Ninjas, to the leaders whose leadership is quiet, but just as powerful.


Each week (for the next few weeks), we’ll introduce you to a true Ninja leader—exploring what makes them the leaders they are, how their approach to and thoughts on leadership vary by generation, and what you can learn from their experience.

Joanne Linden


Considered a pioneer in the Silicon Valley admin world, Joanne was a natural choice. With over 30 years of experience, she’s incredibly accomplished and is always ready and willing to share helpful advice and insights with other professionals in the admin world.

Melissa Smith


Melissa is remarkably forward-thinking with an entrepreneurial drive and spirit. She’s a thoughtful OfficeNinjas Ambassador Leader, and is proactive in pursuing her goals and speaking her mind. By voicing her opinion with care and consideration she encourages lively and engaging conversations.

Crystal Le


As an OfficeNinjas advisor and a Program Leader for the OfficeNinjas Ambassador Program, we just knew we had to hear Crystal’s thoughts on leadership. She’s extremely encouraging and motivating, falls easily into a mentorship role when necessary, and always seeks innovative ways to make things better.

Of course, we’re all about quality conversation! As we roll out Q&As with these amazing Office Ninja leaders, the psychology behind leadership styles and powerful, behind-the-scenes leaders in history, we’d love to hear your thoughts throughout the series. Use the hashtag #NinjaLeadership in your Tweets and posts about the leadership series to add your genius voice to the conversation!

What’s the quality you value most in an inspiring leader? Let us know in the comments or by using #NinjaLeadership!


  1. Leadership has never been a title to me. As long as I can recall in my professional career, it’s been a mix of mentoring (even when you don’t know you’re doing it), coaching and learning. When you have all of those mixed together, you have a healthy balance of leadership (balance not necessarily evenly across the board, but a balance of combinations of what you need, when you need it).

    1. Absolutely, Stephanie! You don’t have to say “I’m a leader” in order to be one. It’s not about the title, but the actions.

  2. This is great! I have been the one behind “The Man/Boss” as well as the one next to “The Man/Boss”. When people, as well as your boss recognize what we do, it makes things a lot easier. We do not plan and facilitate because we have nothing else to do. When we ask our teams to provide us information, it is because it is helpful to “The Man/Boss” to have it. I cannot wait to read the coming #NinjaLeadership series! Great job and congratulations ladies!!

    1. Thanks so much, Kimberly! We hope you’ve enjoyed the series as much as we’ve enjoyed working with these amazing Ninja Leaders and sharing their expertise.

  3. Congratulations Joanne Linden, Crystal Le, and Melissa Smith. You are all truly inspirational!

  4. Leadership is very important to me and my professional development. Ithe is important to me to continue developing these skills and learning from other amazing leaders. From my perspective, having the ability to listen and provide guidance when necessary are valuable assets for a great leader. I always appreciate it when I can discuss challenges with my supervisor and I know that she is listening and will point me in the right direction.

    1. Excellent to note, Jenn! Not everyone knows how to properly listen (though many are certainly adept at *looking like* they’re listening).

  5. I’m very excited about our OfficeNinjas #NinjaLeadership series! Behind every Leader, there’s a strong assistant, a sounding board, partner, gatekeeper & executer in all executive matters. That’s us! Our dedicated efforts help our Leaders shine in their important roles, and that’s something to be very proud of. Kuddos to a job well done! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, lessons learned & best practices with us.

    1. Can’t wait for you to read the interviews with these amazing Ninjas, Evelyn! A leader is more than just the person in charge, and Joanne, Melissa, and Crystal exemplify that!

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