Leading From Behind
"Leadership is not about the next election, it's about the next generation."-Simon Sinek
The other day while describing the book I was reading to my 6 year old on leadership, naturally, he flooded me with an onslaught of questions. What are leaders, who are they, how do they act. I, of course, returned his question, with my own.
With a 6 year old, it was a pretty simple conversation:
Q (my son)-Mama, why do you need a book about leadership? Why do you need to know when everyone is a leader?
Q (me)-"Who do YOU think is a leader?"
A-"Someone who shows you the way on a path. Like when we go hiking, you guys tell us the direction"
Q-"Sure, that's a great example, how do you think a leader acts?"
From all the conversations we have had about politicians, presidents, Mayors, Prime Ministers, teachers, (and any other person you may at first consider a leader) I quickly realized we have never referred to them as leaders. We have made a point to always highlight a persons actions. We like to remind them that even adults- politicians, teachers, and parents can make poor choices in their actions and words. We try to not admire someone for their status, but their actions, their words towards others. That these actions and words have the power to influence, positively or negatively. We will often remind them that even THEY have influence, pointing out how their actions can encouraged or deflate a person's confidence, something we have all experienced. So what is a leader?
nounlead·er·ship | \ˈlē-dər-ˌship \
Definition of leadership
1: the office or position of a leaderrecently assumed the leadership of the company
2: capacity to leada politician who lacks leadership
3: the act or an instance of leadingleadership molds individuals into a team— Harold Koontz & Cyril O'Donnell
Interestingly, the word leadership above is a noun, but any book you read about leadership, about leading, it is treated as a verb, as an action, as something we do, not as something we are. Our actions determine whether or not we are a leader.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last
A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. —Lao Tzu
Prior to having kids, I would never have considered myself a leader, an influencer. That title, leader, is for THOSE people, those with long titles before their names, with multiple letters after their name, and with their days filled with the busy of meetings (all admirable things, I will add). However, once I had children, I quickly realized that kids do as you DO, not as you say-they mimic your actions, your words. "Use kind words, don't hit, look people in the eye"... the list of "commands" we give them can go on forever. But if I am speaking to them with frustration, with anger, what are they learning in terms of how to treat people? Regardless of what I say to them, they do as I do-my actions are what they follow. I think we all have experienced our reflection through our kids and at least for me, have felt embarrassed, or worse, shame at the tone they use or the phrase they spoke, knowing they learned that directly from me.
Once I recognized the influence I had, it was impossible to not see the influence others had, for good or for bad- it was all there. If as a parent I am a leader, does that not make other parents leaders as well? If I am a leader as a member of my community influencing other children, does this not make other community members leaders? Are our children, who are apart of our communities, and using what they know to influence their peers, to use their voice for good, are they not leaders, too?
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader". I apologize for the repeat quote, but I don't think I have ever read a more accurate description of the ability that kids have to inspire us: to dream, to learn, to become MORE. Yes, kids are indeed our future leaders, but today, they lead as well. Our job is to make sure that we use our influence to empower them to move forward knowing their value as leaders.
The above conversation with my son continued like this:
Q-"what do you think is better, if a leader is at the front, like when showing you the way on a path, or in the middle, trying to understand and engage with everyone else who they are guiding?".
A-"oh, in the middle, right. But maybe it's even BETTER if they are at the BACK, then they can make sure nobody is left behind".
Now THAT is, indeed, a great leader.
“And I worry sometimes that we spend so much time celebrating amazing things that hardly anybody can do, that we've convinced ourselves those are the only things worth celebrating. We start to devalue the things we can do every day, we take moments where we truly are a leader and we don't let ourselves take credit for it, or feel good about it……. My call to action today is that we need to get over our fear of how extraordinarily powerful we can be in each other's lives. We need to get over it so we can move beyond it, and our little brothers and sisters and one day our kids -- or our kids right now -- can watch and start to value the impact we can have on each other's lives, more than money and power and titles and influence.” -Drew Dudley, TED talk, the lollipop movement