When you do not trust or admire your leaders, it may be time to redefine what leadership is and where to find it.
As we head into another presidential election, you can sense the importance of this one. It’s crucial. Like each one before it. I’ve lived through 9 presidential elections so far. Each one has looked and felt like a competition of sinners and saints, heroes and villains, smart ones and dumb ones. We always want the good guy or gal to win, but what if they don’t?
In case of emergency — break glass.
It’s time to bust the picture frame covering the image we’ve mounted on the wall with the word “leader” etched beneath it. While voting has power, we have so much more power than our vote. We have so many more options available to us than those who ask for it.
It starts with consciously looking at the way we define and acknowledge leadership, and continues with where we look for those leaders. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on this. I’m not saying I’ve got it right, but I have some solid ideas about what a good leader can be and where we can find them.
A true leader is wise and understanding. This is different than educated and smart. They will want to offer you something, not show themselves off. They are willing to use their heart and their intelligence to help you find your own. They will have the capacity to truly listen. No matter how much they may personally disagree with what is being said, they will be able to listen for something valuable.
A true leader does not hold tight to their personal ideas of what is right and best. They respect what they know, but also understand they cannot possibly know everything. They are flexible, like a tree that bends in a storm, moving with the elements, but not breaking. They realize that there are times when they must find higher ground, stand firm, and call out to us to stand up with them. But also, that there is a time to step down onto the muddy field, shed the label of leader, and help those who are stuck in the muck.
A leader has emotional intelligence. They are able to stay with the feeling of their own discomfort and inadequacy, not run from it or hide it from others. They know you can only take others where you yourself have been. If you have not been vulnerable enough to feel the pain of being human, you cannot be trusted to lead those who suffer the hardships of existing.
A true leader recognizes human fallibility, their own and others. They can look at their life and see moments when they got it wrong and learned from their mistakes. They can also forgive another for innocent errors because they know how easy they are to make. They will have the courage to try things, knowing they may fail. The will have the resiliency to dust themselves off, apologize and/or adjust, then try again.
Don’t wait for these leaders to show themselves, go find them
We can always find these people and let them know we hear them, we see them, we value them. People do not rise to positions of leadership only from their own volition. They also rise because they were called out by people who valued the qualities they possessed.
It’s time to be more conscious of the power we have on a moment by moment basis. Let’s not only choose our leaders because they decided they could lead. Let’s also foster leadership elsewhere. We get to choose our leaders every second of every day, from every aspect of life and existence.
Look for leaders outside of conventional areas
Look to artists who inspire you to be, see, and feel more. Consume their creations because music, movies, books, poetry and art allow us to step outside of ourselves. They allow us to see new ideas we would otherwise not believe to be possible.
Look inside your family and circle of friends for those who are doing the best they can with the hardest parts of life, asking for nothing in return. Ask them how they do it, because they have so much to share about how to get through this life.
Look within the walls of your schools for people willing to teach your children for reasons nowhere near fame and fortune. They are surrounded by young humans who have not yet learned to be bitter and jaded. They can tell you tales of hope so perhaps you can remember your own.
Look to people who have jobs that you would not consider taking, living lives that you do not understand. Through them you will see a different version of life. Your world will expand without having to travel a mile. You will be all the wiser for it.
Look for people who love their lives, even though those lives did not turn out the way they wanted or expected. They will teach you how to find the goodness of life outside your own personal desires.
Look to people who have moved past, through, or beyond what you believe you are facing in your own life right now. Do this so that you understand change is possible and accessible.
Let these people be your leaders, whether they would call themselves leaders or not. Whether you have met them in person or not. Whether they know you are following or not.
Don’t just like the idea, take action
If you’re still reading, don’t leave these words on the screen. Breathe them in. Let them move through your bloodstream. Bring them into your heart and mind and let them stir something new within you. Allow them to guide you toward new people and things and outcomes. Take the time to consider what you believe a true leader to be, and then go out and look for those people.
The people we vote into office have an important role to play, but they cannot be expected to save us. I want you to know that you have within you at all times the capacity and the ability to find, create, and realize something new and better. If you cannot see it for now, look to someone who can. And then support them. Support them verbally, emotionally, financially, or any way you can. Support them so they can support you.
I offer this because I know that when you consciously look for the best in people, you will find the best of yourself. One day you may realize that you have within you all the same components of all the greatest leaders. One day soon, someone may tap you on the shoulder and call you leader.
In this way, we will discover how to better lead ourselves.