As I walked by the classroom I was immediately pulled into its energy. I quietly slipped into an empty desk at the back of the classroom and began watching the teacher unfold an exceptional lesson that was completely captivating her students.
Later, after the class was over, I inquired whether she would be interested in sharing her lesson at our next staff meeting, so that her methodology and the lesson could be shared with her colleagues.
I was caught off-guard by her response. She was completely taken aback by the idea. She shared that while she was confident about teaching her students she was totally unsure about her capacity to do the same with her peers.
After talking it through a bit more, she agreed to teach the lesson at the next staff meeting, but only because I offered to help her if she faltered. I became her safety net.
Throughout my career as a high school administrator I discovered that this uncertainty about the capacity to lead was echoed by others. Quite commonly the initial response was filled with skepticism or self-depreciation .
Generally, a “Who me?” was swiftly followed by excuses about why she or he believed they were unqualified to lead. While excuses varied, they were typically rooted in a deep-seated belief that they did not have the gifting, skill set, character, experience, or education necessary to lead.
These individuals’ self-perceptions were incongruent with the fact that they exuded natural leadership skills, as evidenced by how others deferentially listened to them or turned to them when problems needed to be untangled.
I am sure there are many reasons why people tend to discount or downplay their potential to lead. But I suspect that one reason for this is that we tend to be influenced by the perceptions we hold around leadership. Leadership can often be associated with official roles or titles such as administrator, boss, president, or CEO, and this can be intimidating.
These examples of leadership roles, with their associated responsibilities, do reflect at least a certain degree of authority, experience, aptitude, and education. These perceptions can form the definition of a leader as being an individual who deliberately leads a group of people or an organization towards achieving some task or a goal.
Personally, I tend to see leadership through a broader lens. A lens that takes this view and expands it to include the leadership that occurs whenever someone notices a need and then is compelled to respond.
While this tends to be a more spontaneous and informal type of leadership, it has an amazing power to effect positive change and to inspire others.
If one looks carefully, this form of leadership can be observed across every type of setting:
It is in the leadership fathers and mothers exhibit every time they teach their child how to navigate the complexities and challenges of life.
It emerges in a crisis, when an adolescent recognizes adult help is needed and then mobilizes to access it.
Or it is leadership that is shown when an individual discerns a need of the marginalized, devises a solution, and then rises up to activate that solution.
Or when a child notices a classmate has no lunch, and then quietly offers to give them half of their sandwich.
Or it is the leadership that is exemplified when someone bravely speaks the truth, in love and grace, to a companion.
While these examples of leadership may be unheralded and are often overlooked, each of them has a tremendous power to unleash love and transformation into the world.
It is a certainty that each of us will be regularly called upon to step up, to lead in some capacity, in response to some need. Our eyes and ears need to be opened, and our hearts receptive, so that we become sensitive to situations, whether it is within our family, friendships, communities, or somewhere around the world, that are calling us to act. And then rising to becoming the courageous leaders who accept these invitations to effect positive changes in the world around us.