Leadership: The Pedestal

One of my favorite speakers is Drew Dudley, a speaker and leadership educator from Toronto. He describes the common view of leadership as this huge idea that nobody is worthy of, because saying that you are worthy of the title leader would somehow be too arrogant or cocky for comfort. Dudley then proceeds to break down this belief of leadership as some grandiose title and speaks instead of leadership as individual acts. After telling a story that helped him to emphasize an individual action he took that changed someone’s life. He shares an interaction with a student in which the student thanked him for handing out lollipops on her first day at university, when she wasn’t sure she was cut out for school. The student shares that he made her feel comfortable enough to stay at school and helped her branch out and meet people. The most impactful moment of the story is that Dudley doesn’t even remember the moment from four years earlier when he handed her that lollipop. By using his experience to explain the individual impact that such a simple action can have (handing out a lollipop — not exactly a grand gesture), Dudley focuses in on the goal of leadership. One of his final sentiments in his speech on this subject is that “We’ve made leadership about changing the world, and there is no world. There’s only six billion understandings of it.” This quote magnificently puts into context the impact that a single action can have, and really emphasizes the individual acts a person can take that exemplify leadership.

Overall, I have tried to emphasize this point in my everyday life, and I often find myself forgetting that my own recognition of the the importance of individual acts impacts more than just me. I’ve found that I have a contradictory view of myself — on the one hand, I see myself as a leader because I work to exemplify the community values that I see as vital to my school, and I work to help others discover their own potential. However, on the other hand, I sometimes still view my actions as though they are happening in a bubble. I forget that so much of leadership is about connection and support and stepping up and standing back at the right times to develop both myself as a leader and the people I am working with. I don’t think I’m alone in this, but I want to be more intentional in breaking down leadership into individual actions. I also hope to encourage my peers and my friends to do the same, because I think that they experience a lot of the same thoughts and obstacles regarding leadership that I do, and which are addressed by Drew Dudley in his speech. In fact, I rarely ever hear my peers embracing their position as a leader or stating that they are a leader. I want to set the standard of leadership high enough that it means something to be a leader, but reachable enough that it’s no longer just a far-off, impossible to reach concept.

I had one experience last week which really solidified the lack of continuity between leadership as an achievable trait and the qualities a leader possessed. In the leadership program I am helping to facilitate, we did an activity where all of the students in the program had to finish the following thoughts:

-a leader is…

-a leader acts…

-a leader says…

-a leader can…

-a leader does…

Under each of these thoughts, the students in the program wrote all of these qualities that are really idealistic: confident, intelligent, respectful, compassionate, humble, and dozens of qualities to aspire towards. None of the students were comfortable stating clearly that they were leaders on campus or in their lives, and yet they all identified with the qualities they wrote down during the activity. I think that a big part of encouraging student leadership is, from the student perspective, based almost entirely on titles. This puts students in the mindset that leadership is a position that may someday be achieved, a title to strive for. I think it is really important to reframe student perspective to create a new focus around recognizing leaders based on the qualities students possess. As Drew Dudley puts it, we need to “value the impact we can have on each other’s lives, more than money and power and titles and influence. We need to redefine leadership as being about lollipop moments — how many of them we create, how many we acknowledge, how many of them we pay forward and how many we say thank you for.”

  • Rachel Young

PS: Check out Drew Dudley’s Ted Talk below

https://www.ted.com/27011d71-3aac-4c46-87b2-7434142ba3ce

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