One regular day in my first year of high school, our English teacher, Ms. Ivanova, remarked offhandedly that I was a leader. I don’t remember the context, but I do remember that I felt both flattered and confused. I didn’t know why she said that, or what it meant. But I remember it 20 years later.
I don’t believe my teacher singled me out. I believe she saw and called all my classmates leaders, at different times, for different reasons. I believe she was helping us see who we could be and inspire us to become that.
This blog post isn’t about labeling leaders or developing generic leadership practices. It’s about realizing that you can be a leader in your own unique way, finding out what that looks like, and crafting your unique leadership mold.
Everyone can be a leader. Being a leader starts with leading yourself, with becoming you.
Step 1: (Re)Discover Who You Are
Do you have a personal mission statement? When’s the last time you thought about who you are, about your values, or about what you want to achieve in life? We set goals and resolutions, we commit to doing more of one thing or less of another thing, but to what end?
We are social creatures. We constantly compare, contrast and observe others for clues about how to live. “The neighbors bought a boat – we must get one too!”
That’s what makes discovering yourself so treacherous. Are you who you are because you (unwittingly) decide to pursue the same life as the people around you? Or do you define yourself by being contrarian, by choosing to be the opposite of ‘them’?
In either case, you are not leading yourself. You lose your authenticity and you lose yourself. So craft your personal mission statement. (Re)affirm your values. Clarify your ‘why’.
Step 2: Tap Into Your Passions
We don’t allow ourselves to play often enough. We overbook our lives. How do we discover what we love and what we are good at if we don’t ever spend the time exploring and trying things?
I started playing the piano at the age of five. I didn’t mind it, but I can’t say I loved it. So when I gathered enough independence (i.e. became a teenager), I rebelled and said ‘no more piano’! It was time for soccer and video games. Fast forward five years and I started missing the piano. It turns out that I loved playing. I still play today and it gives me joy.
When was the last time someone prevented you, or you held yourself back from doing something you love? Commit right now to spending 15 minutes a day, an hour a week, or whatever it is, to channel a passion. That’s how you reconnect with your authentic self.
Step 3: Never stop learning (about yourself and others)
Einstein said:“intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” We all learn stuff every day – it’s almost unavoidable. But most of the time we are not intentional about what we learn. What’s the last thing you learned on your job? Perhaps you learned a new Excel function, or how to use an e-newsletter platform, or how to do journal entry. That may be important (for your job), but ultimately, it doesn’t help you grow as a human being.
We spend too much time developing functional skills, and organizational skills, and figuring out how to become more efficient or how to get that promotion. And we forget about ourselves as people. Ask yourself – how can I grow as a person today? How could I become a better version of myself? How do I become who I want to be?
Build empathy. Give more. Thank the people who have helped you. Try to see the good in others (even that colleague who annoys you). Grow as a person to grow as a leader. Not the CEO or VP of XYZ leader. Not the boss of someone leader. The leader of yourself and your life. The leader you are becoming. You.
What’s the first thing that came to mind when you read this blog? Write below one intention you wish to set for yourself right now. What’s one thing you can do to (re)discover yourself, tap into your passions or grow?