We all have stories of leadership in our lives. Hopefully more than just a few. Our parents, a teacher, a coach, a counselor, someone who made an impact for us. A deftly insightful person who recognized something in us we didn’t. Or, took an interest in our future and put their indelible fingerprint on our motivation and kindly authenticated our talents.
We embrace our gratitude to them by honing our success at becoming ourselves, in small ways perhaps, but the none the less significant. My 6th-grade teacher told me I was a good writer. I can still remember that moment, to this very day, and if I close my eyes I can still smell her sweet perfume as she put her hand on my shoulder and made me realize I might own something unique.
There are a plethora of theoretical leadership qualities, and just a cursory search will bubble up more than a million articles on what it takes to be a great leader. Though mostly ascribed to business success, the thread of qualities remains the same for teachers, clergy members, organizers, and politics. The idea that leadership can be defined by a top ten list of qualities devalues the idea that it’s really very human.
It’s instinctual. We don’t attempt to imitate the prescribed qualities of a good parent to ourselves, for example, in an effort to be the best parent we can. We want to be the best parent to the children we have. Our job is to identify our children’s needs, help them develop a strong esteem, and then give them enough intangibles for the cover charge they’ll pay at the entrance to their chosen path.
Our leaders have shown themselves in our lives at various stages, we did not seek them out any more than we sought out our own family. They arrived inconsequentially and being smart, insightful, caring, humane, understanding (insert any other proven leader quality here) allowed us the pleasure of following their words, because we trusted they wanted the best for us. Even if sometimes we had to sacrifice for the greater good, we wanted to remain loyal. Leaders don’t say yes to everything.
After all, no one does. And just as surely, they weren’t perfect, either. My 6th-grade teacher once yelled at me in front of the whole class for taking her pen without asking. Sure, I was wrong, and displeasing her was a long felt humiliation. She was right to be mad. Yet, I still sought her out where and when I could. She seemed to know something about me which eluded my own reflection.
Leaders don’t have to be CEO’s, your boss, or a billionaire. Sure, we’d like to have one of them whisper words of wisdom when we need it most, but let’s be honest, these folks lead thousands of other people, too. To the highest of authorities, our existence is inconsequential. The best advice I have had in my life came from those who knew something about me, had some stake in my happiness, and for whatever reason, believed in me.
One of the best acceptance speeches ever uttered came from of all people, Fred Rogers, when he received a lifetime achievement award for his Mister Rogers PBS series. This man, who spent decades ensuring young children felt “special”, by God, knew what real leadership meant to any of us. He asked the audience to take ten seconds, and timed it by his watch, to think of all the people in their life who loved them “into being”, all those people who wanted the best for them, and how wonderful those people must feel knowing the difference they had made in their life.
Yes, leaders are everywhere.
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