What is leadership to you?

8 Dec

"Everyone Leads" -- a new book written by CEO Paul Schmitz

If you’re in the Public Allies realm, you’re already all too familiar with this concept already, so bear with me. For those of you who aren’t, Public Allies has a tagline: “Everyone Leads.” This seems obvious to me now. Yet as I think about it more, this concept goes against almost everything that society tells us about leadership!

Think about it. When you hear the word “leader,” what comes to mind? Some things that I conjure up are “you were a born leader” or pictures of President Barack Obama, Mahatma Gandhi, or even the captain of a football team. We live in a society that relies on hierarchical structures with a single source of leadership. Only a few have the power to speak for the masses, leaving the majority to either get with it, or get out.

But are these so-called leaders really born into their roles? Is it some kind of pre-determined fate that determines if you can lead or not? My simple answer: no. Every one of us was born with leadership capabilities, and has been a leader at some point. Every one of us has an opinion, new ideas, and possible solutions. I remember trying to answer an essay question on a college scholarship application that asked, “How have you been a leader at school?” It instructed you to check the boxes of a pre-determined list of leadership positions you held. This is how they determined your leadership abilities. Now, I wasn’t the most involved person in school; I didn’t do organized sports or participate in clubs and wasn’t outspoken, so I felt like I didn’t have anything to put down. I didn’t have any tangible evidence that I was a leader. Yet my teachers told me over and over again that I was a leader.

I realize now that leadership isn’t defined by the positions you have. Leadership can be different. In high school, I think my teachers saw that I was the first person to help explain a difficult math concept to classmates, or laugh at mean jokes. These things didn’t seem like leadership traits at the time, but that’s only because they weren’t conventional—it didn’t match up with society’s tired version. But conventional doesn’t allow for change.
That’s why I think the Occupy Wall Street Movement spreading throughout the nation is so powerful. There isn’t a single group of people leading the movement. Everyone feels empowered to voice their own unique stances. In times when everyone feels turmoil and instability, change is happening. And it’s because we’re starting to realize: everyone leads.

So tell me: what is leadership to you? How have you been a leader?

Protesters affiliated with Occupy Wall Street moved uptown on Tuesday to demonstrate outside of some of New York's richest residents' homes.

Everyone who has participated in the Occupy Movement is a leader.

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2 Responses to “What is leadership to you?”

  1. Public Allies MD (@PublicAlliesMD) December 9, 2011 at 8:09 am #

    Great post Liz, we are asking our Allies, Partners, and Alumni the same question right now “What does leadership mean to you?” Keep us updated about your journey!

  2. imdelgado December 12, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

    Liz, I can definitely relate. As I move through the Public Allies experience, I discover that I’m being offered opportunities to exhibit my leadership skills in non conventional ways- such as planning logistics for a community conversation or making thank you cards for Continuous Learning guest speakers. These alternative leadership methods- like the members of the Occupy movement- allow for everyone to lead.

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