Leadership wasn’t something I was born with. I hear a lot of people say that they were a born leader. They were leading other kids on the playground, telling their siblings what to do, or taking on leadership roles in their classrooms at age 7. That was NEVER me. I was an only child, the youngest of all my cousins, and frankly, rather happy being a follower most of the time.
I didn’t start to lead fearlessly until I started to love me. I can’t stress that enough… leadership started for me when I started to unapologetically be ME. This was a gradual process that started in my teens, and continues to evolve to this day. However, self-love was the first and by far the most important step to living with meaning and living as a leader.
I took on my first official leadership role when I was 19 years old and have had many since then. Each of them has revealed a new layer of myself to me, and ultimately has allowed me to love myself more, forgive myself when necessary, and be even more of who I am meant to be.
That is what a great leader does…sees their role not as a way to direct others, but as a way to evolve themselves while evolving others. One of my favorite experiences of evolving my own leadership came from a week spent at a leadership development program I was sent to by my former employer.
That week changed who I was as a leader in so many ways, and made me realize that being an adaptable leader, a heart-centered leader, and a leader that was unapologetically willing to be myself was key.
Prior to that week I often led in one specific way, I could be aggressive, demanding, and was always trying to prove myself. Much of this stemmed from a lack of confidence as almost everyone I was leading was older and more experienced than I was. I felt like I had something to prove, and I was in ego most of the time.
That week I spent developing my own leadership helped me to see that not only was that not serving the people I was leading, but it wasn’t serving me either. It was stunting my growth, preventing my evolution, and keeping my team feeling stuck. We spent a ton of time doing role-playing, I received one on one coaching, we went through different leadership scenarios, and I received invaluable feedback. Most importantly, I did the massive self-reflection that those experiences encouraged and I realized it was time for a change.
I remember one specific experience where I did a role-playing scenario with three different people. In each scenario I behaved exactly the same in my role as the leader. In each scenario I received COMPLETELY different feedback. One person thought I was aggressive, one person thought I was cold, and one person thought I was a great leader and exactly what they needed. My mind was absolutely blown.
It became increasingly obvious to me that being a leader required intention, it required adaptability, and it required a desire to serve as much as I lead. Leadership revealed itself to be about the person in front of me, not my own ego, and not my own rigid version of how I LIKED to lead.
I have been an exceptionally intentional leader since that week. I have not always been perfect, but I have always been effortful. Sometimes I’m able to stand in my confidence and stay out of my ego. Some days that’s more challenging. Yet, the effort is always there, and that’s what’s important. Being a leader is the most powerful self-development experience we can encounter, and as soon as we acknowledge it as such we can step into the power it creates for us and for those we lead.