Our theme for professional development this year is leadership, and we’re coming at it from two different angles. First, we’re talking about being leaders ourselves. And then, we want to talk about building leadership skills in our students. Way back in 2007, I wrote about being a leader without the official title. That idea has stuck with me and I’ve built on it over the years. I think the following still describes much of how I see myself as a leader:
I see myself in a quieter, smaller role, leading a smaller group of people. I see myself doing what I did as president of the GSA: having conversations, guiding people, offering advice, saying what I think to people in power. I hope in some small way that what I do inspires and motivates others. I see some evidence that it does. I see students pursuing technology careers as a consequence of their working with me. I ran a successful conference last week. I’ve written articles that have gotten a good response. I get regular emails from people around the country asking for advice. And I tend to forge ahead into new frontiers fairly regularly. I try to be generous with what I have to give–knowledge, information, assistance, connections. I believe that generosity is an important aspect of leadership
When I wrote that, I remember feeling the need to dig into myself and figure out in what way I believed myself to be a leader, because I was being told, directly and indirectly, not just that I wasn’t a leader, but that I couldn’t become one. As a teacher, I would never tell a student that they couldn’t learn a skill. And leadership is a skill, a skill that takes practice. And leadership comes in lots of forms and styles. I joked with someone the other day that I liken myself to Joe Biden, or even Al Gore, if you will, the Vice President who never becomes president. But both of those men are leaders. No one would say they didn’t accomplish enough just because they didn’t make it the next rung up the ladder.
The task before us for this year is to convince everyone that they have leadership qualities within them and to help them build those leadership qualities. Some people say that if everyone is a leader, then you have no followers (and so no real leaders, I guess). I disagree. For two reasons. One, everyone leads differently. Some may be the kind of leader who quietly gets stuff done while another is someone who’s good at rallying the troops. Two, everyone leads at different times. In my daily activities, there are times when I’m clearly in a leadership role and times when someone else is. Different activities need different kinds of people to lead them. That said, I bring my leadership qualities with me wherever I go. If one of my qualities is about facilitating conversations between people with differing points of view and bringing people to a decision, then I’m going to use that skill whether or not I’m the person at the front of the room.
In my mind, if everyone comes to the table with a sense of leadership, of leading a community toward a common mission and goal, in whatever way they can with their particular skills, then we are all better off. And we all have ownership of our work and goals. It seems to me that that creates a pretty powerful organization.