There he is, a leader in the middle of the park, sitting on a horse with a pigeon perched on his hat. Too often, when we picture a leader, this is the image we see. But, what should we see?
A leader probably doesn’t have a horse. A leader isn’t bronze in color. A leader is not stiff, heartless, and unyielding. A leader isn’t some oldish guy; it is very likely a leader isn’t even a guy.
Who should we see when we think of a leader? We should think of those who dared to forge a new path, challenge us to be better versions of ourselves, look objectively at our strengths, weaknesses, flaws, and mistakes and make us want to do better. We should think of those who didn’t just “do” for us but encouraged, threatened, mandated, or coached us to do that hard thing or make that difficult decision. We should think of those people that helped us become better at our job or clearly defined an escape strategy from a job or a position that was not a good fit.
Leaders dare to make hard decisions, take on the tough coaching challenges with fellow employees, including their boss, stand up for what is right and proper, challenge mediocrity and complacency, and continually drive for excellence.
Some of the best leaders I have worked for included people that laid me off, reassigned me, demoted me, pointed out my flaws and behaviors that were causing me or my work harm, that inspired me to want and expect more from myself and gave me the courage and freedom to take risks and make hard decisions.
Leadership is not just a title, a role, an office, or a horse. Through their actions and conversations with others, a leader is a person, making their work and relationships better.
I was at a reception recently and met a young woman, Page. She is a student at Ball State. When she was three years old, she was diagnosed with HIV Positive. She has no rank or even authority. She is petite. In no way does she look like the statue of a General on a horse. Since her middle school years, she had endured societal scorn and bullying when her HIV status became public at her school. Friendships ended. She was an outcast among her classmates during those problematic formative years of her life. She and her mother were forced to relocate to keep her safe. Today Page uses her past to define her future by using it to create honest conversations about how to prevent others from suffering the hate and isolation she endured. This person demonstrated genuine and authentic leadership.
Leadership isn’t about the horse. Being a leader is about being the best person you can be, doing the best work you can do, having a voice to improve the lives and situations of those that surround you, and helping everyone you work or play with being better at what they do, how they do it and who they are becoming. This leadership knows no age, stature, color, status, or role; it is a responsibility we all owe our family, friends, bosses, peers, and ourselves.