Someone once told me that you never get over high school because so many things are changing in your life and those few years are so pivotal. To me, those years and even middle school shaped my vision of myself. For some time now I have been aware that this vision is outdated but I haven’t known what to replace it with.
I was standing in towers lobby one of the first times I was told I was a leader. I was handing out flyers for the event I had been planning, which was bringing a Holocaust survivor to campus. I’m naturally more introverted than extroverted, but I will do pretty much whatever it takes to ensure the success of an event. I decided to take a break when a Hillel staff member told me that I should run for president of my fraternity because “they already see me as a leader.” Here I was, mere months into the first leadership role of my life, just doing my thing, when I was already being told I was a leader. It was confusing, but I can’t say it was surprising. I knew she was right.
If life were made of these moments then this would all be way too easy. But life is a struggle both with external factors and my own doubts and anxieties. The average day does not have me unconsciously leading, but rather, has me very consciously doing my best to be a leader. But what does “being a leader” even mean in the first place? If I knew that answer, I would not have had to come to the Himalayas.
How do you know if someone is a leader in the first place? At the basic level, the only way you can tell is through their actions. That’s why I was told that one day in towers lobby that I was a leader; because I was out there doing necessary yet uncomfortable work, not thinking about doing that work. I was physically doing it. Through this week or so in the Himalayas, I have learned that action is necessary. This makes sense logically but is difficult to put into practice. No one wants to try to be a leader, they just want to be one! And it often feels that trying to force yourself to be a leader does not work at all. However, the only way to be a leader is to actively try to be. This is why understanding different leadership theories is so fundamental to leadership: it’s easier to become a leader if you know concretely what a leader looks like.
I am glad I had authentic leadership as my assigned topic. I am a firm believer that people become their actions, rather than actions acting as extensions of ourselves. Authentic leadership is not about finding yourself, but about being yourself. I have tried to be better at this in group activities. For example, today I asked two quiet people if they were alright with a group decision. I noticed their silence, which I would have prior to this leadership course as well, but this time I acted on it. I took inclusion, which I value, and actually acted on it rather than being silent. Action is absolutely necessary, and I look forward to practicing this more and more in the future.
An element of authentic leadership, as described by Bill George, is purpose, or knowing what you’re about and expressing that knowledge through passion. I think it is an interesting element because it raises the question: what if you aren’t passionate? If you aren’t passionate, should you even be leading? I believe you should not lead if you are not passionate, and therefore, leaders can also act as followers. For example, in our activity a few days ago we all held hands and had to twist around to achieve a goal. Personally, I had trouble visualizing how to achieve our goal and I honestly did not really care about it. But others did, so I followed their instructions as best as I could. In that moment, I was not a leader. That does not mean I am not a leader at all, though. There are several ways and contexts in which to lead; just because you’re a follower in one context does not mean you can’t lead in another. I think that having this self awareness in the first place is crucial. While action can be so necessary in being a leader, the right action can also be necessary in being an effective follower.
Through my time in the Himalayas and in other organizations, I have learned how necessary action is. I am not exactly an outgoing guy, but I am starting to realize that I must not only understand myself, but demonstrate myself to my communities and the world. Leadership theory is all well and good, but action is necessary. Else, this blog post is all in vain.