I don’t consider myself a leader.
My coach used to give me all sorts of scenarios to show me that I am a leader. To show me that it comes so naturally to me that I just don’t realize it.
I appreciate it, and I see it.
I know I have been a leader in the past and I have no doubt in my ability to be a leader right now should I choose to be one.
The thing is that "leadership" doesn’t feel great to me right now.
The first conceptualization I had of a leader was one of superiority. It seemed so obvious. The leader is the one at the front of the classroom. The one who has the most experience or knows the most. The one who everyone looks up to and turns to for the answers.
That’s not the person I want to be.
My next conceptualization of leadership was that it was sacrificial. I had read that the true leader was the one at the back of the pack, holding themselves back to make sure no one got left behind. They are caring and nurturing and do everything in their power to make sure everyone makes it to the destination.
When I was this person, I ended up burned out and bitter. I don’t want to be that person again.
The problem with both of these types of leadership is that they make so many assumptions.
Think of it as climbing a mountain:
Scenario 1, lead from the front: As the leader, you stay at the front at least a step or two ahead of everyone. Perhaps you’ve been to the top already and this is your second, third…even tenth or hundredth trip up. You know the best way and you will bring people to the top in the most optimal and efficient way.
Scenario 2, essentially the same, but not only do you need to be a couple steps in front of everyone so you know how to guide everyone the best way, you also need to hold yourself back so you can carry anyone who isn’t keeping up and keep them on track. You are such a loving and caring person that you could never leave anyone behind.
It sounds like the right thing to do. Something a good person would do, right?
You’ve done it and you’ve figured out the secret. What an amazing way to give back by sharing these secrets with your followers? And better, giving so much so that people stay together on the same path, always.
But, you’ve made a few assumptions:
You’ve assumed that all your followers have the same destination.
You’ve assumed that just because something worked best for you, it will also be the best for everyone else.
With these assumptions, you may not have even hinted (or may not even realize yourself) that other destinations are valid alternatives and MAY be more suitable for your followers.
You are so sure that your way is the right way. I mean, you’ve tried so many of other people’s ways and they just haven’t worked for you, but you experimented and found something that worked for you, so now you are confident that you know the way.
Except that you don’t.
You know what is best for you.
And when you are so sure that your way is the right way, you can make your followers feel REALLY shitty when your perfected method doesn’t work for them…the same way you felt when everyone else’s perfect methods didn’t work for you.
Here’s the thing…
No matter how similar our goals may be, no matter how similar WE may be...
We're not the same.
I REALLY want to thrive in life! And I REALLY want you to thrive in life too!
I’ve been working specifically towards my own thriving for a couple years now, much of the time supported by a coach. She has been super helpful and supportive to me in my journey. I’ve learned from her and tailored her ideas to me through my own research and exploration and through this work (plus a bunch of work I did in my PhD) have so many exercises and activities for breaking toxic thought patterns and creating new supportive habits. I’ve changed so many foundational parts of my life to align better with my values. I’ve learned to feel and release my emotions and come back to a state of joy. Sometimes I just want to show you how to do it! Give you my framework, my magic formula!
Except, I realize that my magic is not your magic.
YOUR magic is the magic that will set YOU free. YOUR magic is what will bring YOU to YOUR dreams.
And so, I do not want to be your leader. I do not want you to be my follower.
I’m happy to inspire you, and I hope you know you inspire me too.
I am not an all knowing teacher. You are not a needy student.
We both have incredible wisdom, love, and expertise that we can share with each other to support each other on our own individual journeys to our personal destinations.
But don’t worry - it’s not as lonely as it sounds.
Our destinations may be close together.
Our paths may cross numerous times and may even align for a short or long while.
We all may be going in our own directions, but there are always friends, role models, and supports around, maybe just around the corner.
We have that power together. We are empowered together.
And with these thoughts, I'm left unsure if "leadership" is exactly what I want to do, or if there is something else I want to be in life.
While I've been working on my own thriving over the last two years, I've also been learning a lot about anti-racist and equitable business practices. I know that the systems of leadership (such as the lead from the front, superiority, or lead from the back, sacrificial) don't work for equity. They were built FOR inequity and oppression, so we can't have standard leadership systems and expect spectacular equitable businesses.
So how do we change this thinking? Is there a way to do it differently? A system that is actually built for equity?
I do not know the answer to this, but this is where I'm at with my thinking right now:
My current conceptualization of “leadership" (which I might actually rather call “role model” or perhaps “inspiration”) is authenticity. The way I see it is that you just get to walk at your pace doing your thing. You can be focused on your growth and actions, not necessarily feeling responsible for others, but certainly being aware of the impact you will have on the group around you. You recognize that it is not your job to be consistently at the front because you trust with certainty in your value. You recognize it is not your job to be consistently at the back because you trust with certainty in the capabilities and love of everyone you are walking with.
Everyone will find their own path and the supports they need…I’d say to get to their destination, but there is no real destination.
Your example can empower others to find and walk their own path.
Your example can empower others to live more aligned.
Your example can empower others to live more authentically.
Your example can empower others to live more in love.
It doesn't mean you can't take a moment to teach something you know, to help people build their foundations, to share your processes so others can decide if they'll work for them or not.
Perhaps it just means that you are committed to your journey and open to share whatever overflowing love and wisdom you have to support others.
It doesn't even necessarily mean that you are not committed to supporting others in their journey.
Perhaps it just means that you are not MORE committed than others in THEIR journey.
Is that leadership? I don’t know.
But if it is, I see this leadership (or role model-ship) style as much more effective because:
When you climb to the peak to look back or try to keep herding everyone to the peak from the back of the pack, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is on the same journey as you: not everyone wants to be at the top of the mountain. Some people will veer off on other paths. Some who started the journey up the mountain with you will find their place exploring and thriving in the lush valley not far from the start. Others will discover other paths and places along the way that suit them much better than your destination. And that’s amazing! (Hey, even you might decide to explore a new path and find a cozy cave or luscious forest or uplifting beach that may suit you better when you’re not overly invested in getting everyone to the top).
When you lead authentically from where you are without fearing losing the lead or over-giving and burning out from the back, you can truly stay in your brilliance! Lead by example, lead those who actually desire your leadership, lead and thrive yourself!
Authentic leadership allows for individuals to opt in or out of your leadership. It allows individuals to benefit from your leadership without feeling obligated to follow in your path. It allows everyone in the pack to be a leader in their own right. It allows everyone in the pack to express their own brilliance. It allows everyone to be their own, diverse expression of themselves.
I'm not 100% sure what I think of leadership right now, except to say that the traditional, standard, and widely used Western-style systems are not actually supporting leadership in a way that people - neither leaders nor followers - can easily thrive.
Having said that, I am forever optimistic and I do strongly believe that there are a lot of people who, like me, WANT to see this change. I know that I don't have all the answers, and there's a good chance that you feel similarly - that you don't have the answers either. But perhaps if we could gather in such a way that our collective expertise and experiences could be shared, we'd be able to find some answers. Or at least practice a model of collective "leadership" together.
I still believe in a future where we all thrive together!