You be the leader

A personal reflection

‘You be the leader.’ This is a phrase that we may have heard, and used, in equal measure over our lifetimes. From the very earliest days when playing games as children, to moving through group work experiences, to being nominated, or nominating others, in the workplace to take the ‘lead’.

Translate ‘You be the leader’ to…………

When I hear this phrase I think, ‘You be responsible, visible, and vulnerable’.

This phrase can strike fear both fear and excitement in equal measure, and can, depending on our sense of capacity, instil a sense of empowerment or a sense of doom. These emotions can also be interchangeable every few minutes (at least this has been my experience!).

I am involved in mentoring programs this year, both with adults and young people, and questions arose about confidence as a leader, how you develop it, where it comes from, and what it really looks like. I was asked to share the story of my leadership journey. I had to stop and really think about it from a personal perspective, not from the purely descriptive sense, but the why and how.

My own journey to ‘being a leader’ is one that feels like a series of ‘how did that happen?’ moments. As a teenager, school was not a place where I felt confident, nor did I feel like a leader. I was the student who would turn bright red, hated speaking in class, being put on the spot, and would feel physically sick before presentations. However, there were small moments of stepping forward to lead, to being vulnerable that crept though as I got older. Being part of founding the school ‘Green Group’, entering a Young Conservationist competition, leading a kids group and becoming a School Prefect (a mentor for younger students). I don’t really think that I ever considered myself as a ‘leader’ at that time, I think I would have described myself as a ‘helper’.

I do sometimes look back and wonder – how did I (the young me) end up in a role where I was speaking to hundreds of students on a weekly basis in assemblies, leading a team of 60+ staff, leading workshops and meetings. How did I end up in this situation below? Me, as Captain O’Tree for our Earth Week, Superhero assembly.

Below are the three main reflections I drew about my own personal journey to becoming a leader.

  1. The belief that leadership is not a fixed state
  2. Collaboration and community is key
  3. Authenticity is essential
Leading as Growth

I believe that being a leader is not a fixed state, in my personal experience it is heavily influenced by both internal and external factors; our own sense of self at any point in time or place. I can think back to two leaders in my early teaching career who mentored and coached me in my leadership skills and also made the space for me to be able to grow. I see that now as a huge part of my privilege as a leader, to make space for others to grow and lead, and to reflect back to them the possibilities they hold, and potential they have. I will be forever grateful to the leaders who challenged me, encouraged me and mentored me in the early years of my career. They invested time and ensured I could see, and embrace, possibilities.

Leading in service of Community

When I stepped into my first headship it was largely thanks to the support of colleagues around me. They believed in me, championed me, and helped me see that I could be successful in this role. At the same time I can look back now and see that this was due to the collaboration and community I had established and nurtured. This combination enabled me to acknowledge a need, step forward, and harness the ambition of the team I worked with. I had a sense of responsibility and drive to help the team I worked with, and the students we taught, be our best selves. This connects back to this idea of being a ‘helper’ and desire to see progress and growth. To seek out the needs and together work out how to address these. For me, community is crucial, it is energy-giving, inspiring, and enables action to be taken by individuals and as a collective.

Leading with Authenticity

Recently, I received this photograph of a quote. It was sent to me by a fantastic teacher and leader of learning who I had the privilege to work alongside.

Authentic leaders demonstrate a passion for their purpose, practice their values consistently, and lead with their hearts as well as their heads. They establish long-term, meaningful relationships and have the self-discipline to get results They know who they are.

Bill George, Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value

This resonates for me. Ensuring that we lead with an authentic sense of self in the knowledge that leadership involves both heart and head. It very much reminds me of my dad who was a leader with integrity; building relationships in communities to champion growth and encourage young learners to be their best. Reflecting on this quote, and leaning into it, is a useful touchstone to guide decision-making and thinking.

As I continue on my leadership journey, the phrase ‘You be the leader’ is one I hope to use to encourage, and facilitate, the leadership of others. Mentoring, coaching, championing and encouraging others to see their leadership capacity and be responsible, visible, and vulnerable to have a positive impact on the world around them.

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