This year marks the twentieth anniversary of my high-school graduation. It is also the twentieth anniversary of the best piece of advice I ever received: “They want you to lead them.” Good advice, bad timing.
It was given to me by my “counselor”, the one teacher who was supposed to advise me through my 5 years in that school.
She observed, and intervened, but held back on giving me the words I needed to hear until the very end. What a bad idea!
That was then
The first two years of high school were fun because those of us who were youngest didn’t run the place, yet. The third one was a power-struggle, to see who would take the roles of those older students who would soon be graduating. My last two years there were relentless, with everyone (teachers included) asking for my guidance and approval. I just wanted to be a kid.
My five-year program was innovative in many ways: a co-ed school, where females actually outnumbered males and got the choice internships in prestigious technology companies. At age eighteen, we graduated with enough knowledge in accounting and management of information systems to rival third-year university students. I don’t stay in touch with anyone I went to high-school with. Why? Because they made my last two years there miserable. In hindsight, I realize what the problem was: Everyone wanted to be my favorite. That was impossible.
So, when at the peak of my frustration, I finally made my “counselor” make time for me, she spoke those memorable words: “They want you to lead them.“
Then, she explained something about unreturned love and vengeance. My reply was: “I am not their mother!” But I did take her advice to heart, and in many ways, it has forged my career in the business world.
This is now
I have the BEST job in the world: My job is to tell people that THEY did a GOOD JOB.
Call what I do whatever you prefer: public relations, social media, change management; content curation. At the end of the day, I have nurtured and made people feel good about themselves. One of my favorite mentors referred to it as “gardening”.
We were building several online communities for enterprise collaboration, and she took the time to remind us daily that building is easy. Real success would be measured in successful maintenance, over time. She asked us to think of ourselves as gardeners, ever mindful, ever loving, ever nurturing. That is why I prefer to call myself a community manager. The community is my garden.
Not a choice
For those of us who for some reason or another happen to have “leadership qualities”, leading is not a choice. We are expected (at all times) to be able to listen and advise. It is flattering and fulfilling. And yes, it is also a burden.
Take a look at the children in your life. Be honest, some are just not that interesting, while others clearly outshine their peers. This is why, above all else, I am passionate about early childhood education. We have a duty to help every child discover the potential that lies within.
We make efforts to include those who don’t seem to be participating. We strive to make the tools of the information age available to everyone worldwide. We try to level the playing field, so everyone can have a chance at success.
Please also consider this: those children who may be natural leaders need a break from time to time. If you are in a position to teach and mentor, step in, and make sure those bright kids get a break. Leaders can be made, but many are born with the burden of leadership.