As a facilitator, business consultant and coach over the past thirty years, I have studied leadership. I have read the leadership books, followed the leadership gurus, and at times become dizzy on the many theories that surround this topic. I have followed the lives of business leaders, community leaders, political leaders, team leaders and more. With all this study, coupled with my observations, I am of the belief that most of us do not understand what leadership truly is.
There is an assumption that leadership is power, that leaders assume huge responsibility for people and projects, the leaders stand at the front of the pack and others follow. This is one interpretation.
Maybe leadership is something completely different; what if what I have described above is management or administration? One of the most compelling books I read in my leadership studies was a book called Servant Leadership by Robert Greenleaf. As the name implies, leadership is a call to serve, a desire to have an impact on your family, friends, community, the world. It is not head driven; it is heart inspired. To be a servant leader, one needs to know oneself, to listen to their heart, to lead for the sheer purpose of making a difference versus fame or accolades. It is in this sense a way of life; a choice each of us can make.
The Quiet Leaders
We are surrounded by leaders; they are the unsung heroes who go unnoticed because they are ordinary people like you and I. Look around you. Two of my heroes are Ron and Dorothy Healey, my in-laws, two people who have been in my life since I was 17 years old. At the ages of 93 and 94, and a marriage of 73 years, they are shadows of their former selves and yet their legacy lives on in the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. You might say that they were just regular people, going to work, raising a family, attending church, doing all the things people are supposed to do. All of this is true. And when you take a closer look at their lives your find out the following things:
·They lost a five-year-old child during a medical procedure. They grieved and moved on raising their five other children to adulthood. All their children went on to college of university and had successful careers. As for themselves, Ron had grade four education; Dorothy grade ten, yet they valued education and created the circumstances and desire for their children to have more.
·Ron dedicated what additional time he had to coaching, mostly baseball and hockey. For years he was head referee for minor hockey in Cornwall. When he retired, he dedicated his time to organizing and managing the food bank at St. Francis Church. His granddaughter Megan called it Poppa’s Store. He was always in his car visiting schools and picking up donations.
·Dorothy, having a love for learning, returned to school to complete her high school diploma once the older children had moved on. She then attended St. Lawrence College and became a draftsman, and worked in this profession for several years. She went on to work at Sears in the hardware department, organizing inventory and smoothing out the internal operations of the department.
·For years, Dorothy and Ron taught marriage preparation courses in their parish. Three years ago, while visiting them, a women approached me and asked if the couple I was with were Ron and Dorothy Healey. When I confirmed that it was, she smiled and shared that she had studied with them in a marriage preparation course 25 years earlier and then shared proudly that she was still married. “They were an inspiration” she said. “They are an inspiration”, I replied.
·Dorothy was a founding member of the Catholic Women’s League in her community and held several executive positions including president. She was recently honored by CWL as she is now the only founding member still living.
I am sure there is much more to say about these two humans. They are not LEADERS and they are leaders. They will not be celebrated in the headlines, yet their lives had a significant impact on their children and their community. They, and others like them, are the essential threads holding together the fabric of a community.
Acknowledging Your Leader
You have leaders all around you as well. Take a moment and consider who have been the influential people in your life: parents, neighbors, teachers, pastors, coaches, friends. Consider the impact they have, from their quiet lives, on you, others, and the community around you.
Take a further moment to examine and acknowledge the leader within you. I do believe each of us is a leader, we simply do not see it because for so long we have attributed leadership to the LEADERS versus the leaders. Where is it you serve? It may be through your work, it may be as a parent, a friend, a sister, or a son. It may be through an organization or an activity. It does not need to be LARGE. Leadership is about the small everyday acts of service that each of us engage in that simply make the world a better place.
Here is what each of us can begin doing.
1. Know that you are a leader. Ask yourself in what ways you can make the world a better place and step into it. Acknowledge the difference you already make and build on it.
2. See, really SEE, the people around you. Begin to acknowledge the leadership of others by observing the different acts of service you witness. Acknowledge others when you appreciate what they are doing or who they are being.
3. Be in gratitude for the teachers, the health care workers, the restaurant servers and the shop keepers, the writers, the community workers, and the guardians.
4. Appreciate the LEADERS, those who step into the headlines. Service of this nature comes at a price, often a rewarding one, sometimes not. It is not always easy to elevate your leadership in this way.
5. Not everyone had parents like Ron and Dorothy. I am fortunate to be their daughter-in-law and have them as role models. For those of you who have parents like them, celebrate them, share their stories, see their contributions and most importantly, their leadership.
Until next time,
Betty Healey, MEd, CAPP
Your thoughts and strategies are always welcome and if you care to share you can reach me at: [email protected]