When we think of leaders, we tend to think of those who stand up in front of crowds. Those who guide individuals within a certain profession. But, what is that individual’s purpose in leadership?
We might be naive to believe every leader has a best, professional interest in mind. Certain leadership positions pay well. Some people strive to reach high levels (and I would still argue, for what purpose). Some are simply good speakers who attract audiences.
When I began teaching, I taught learners who struggle with reading comprehension. Many of my learners were sitting in high school classrooms, yet reading at an elementary level. Some of these students had been lost in “the system,” some were focused more on athletics rather than education, some had been socially promoted, but all were struggling and feeling insecure about their abilities. This insecurity surfaced through a multitude of prior experiences, including negative educational experiences, unsupportive teachers, peer pressure, socio-economic challenges, and repetition of the phrase “I’m not good at reading.” These students are often not seen as “leaders” among their peers.
Today, I teach “the top of the class.” My students are AP Literature and Composition students. For the past three years, I’ve taught all honors and AP level courses. Prior to that, I taught primarily co-taught and “regular” English courses. My current students strive for top numbers. 100% validates them, where 89% is failing for them. They need to be in the top 5% of their class. They are the “leaders” among their peers. They are involved in several organizations and extracurriculars.
But at what cost? What is their purpose in choosing this sort of leadership?
Here is the cost I’ve observed over the past few years:
- overwhelming stress
- regurgitation of learning rather than synthesis
- competition rather than collaboration
- reduced empathy
- going through the motions
- entitlement based on completing tasks (not meeting academic expectations)
- reduced creativity
- inability to problem-solve
- fear of participating in student-directed conversation
- skipping class/school to avoid a test or work submission on the due date (not prepared)
- inability to prioritize and manage time
- inability to focus on what is important (too many things on their mind)
- little to no intrinsic motivation
- inability to strengthen areas of passion or interest because they are spread too thin with all involvements
- little to no sleep=more stress=more irritability=more illness
- meet expectations (personal, parent, teacher, society)
- the school expectation is to demonstrate ability to effectively practice and apply skill-based learning to multiple and within varying environments
- go to great colleges
- this seems to be based on cultural symbolism rather than actual ranking in most cases
Where is the passion? Where is the growth? Where is the personal responsibility?
If these students are the leaders among their peers, why would a struggling student aspire to be among the “select honors” students? The honors students are stressed, overwhelmed, emotional. The struggling student needs a responsive supporter, a collaborative partner, and perhaps a mentor teacher.
Similarly, why would colleagues wish to be leaders if leaders show little to no passion for what they do? What is the purpose of becoming a leader? Is it the pay? The prestige? The expectation? Leaders are often viewed as those who are left to “take over” what bosses do not wish to do. But what if the leader is truly a bridge between colleagues and bosses? What if leaders took on responsibilities based on their intrinsic motivation and chose to lead as a method of collaboration rather than competition? Leaders value working with all individuals as a way to learn, grow, and achieve.
Leaders work among colleagues, not above.
Leaders practice the lessons they disseminate. Leaders listen on a professional and personal level. They have empathy. They demonstrate problem-solving and expect the same from those around them. They take on responsibility because it is all about the passion and purpose of the cause, not because “everyone needs to jump through hoops.” They seek the positive within all situations and embrace change, all the while showing that change does not imply ease or smooth sailing. Leaders collaborate and share effectively. They ask for feedback and truly ponder what that feedback implies. They reflect and reflect and reflect. They value and validate everyone’s experience.
So, just because others seem to be in leadership roles, that does not necessarily mean they are leaders. What is their purpose? Is it to elevate themselves to a higher platform or is it to elevate everyone? I’m not suggesting that only one certain leadership way is correct. But, I am an idealist. It is my hope that we (human beings) all work for the betterment of our community, society, and world, and, for me, working toward that means that I’m rising to my own expectations while helping other meet their own.
PS…never under-estimate the value and worth of others. People break stereotypes and generalizations every day- both positively and negatively. If we believe in each other, amazingly positive things can happen.