Leadership is a choice. It rests on the shoulders of influence and inspiration, not compliance and control. Leadership is not a title, it’s an opportunity to recognize the greatness that lives inside others. It’s not about taking the credit for the work, but giving it to others. Leadership is about inspiring others to cultivate confidence in themselves so they can breathe life into ideas that will awaken their soul. Leadership is harnessing the gifts that are manifesting within. It’s letting others recognize their potential by planting seeds that they can nurture and grow.
Salute the Person
Growing up, I had leaders all around me. My Dad was one of them. He was and still is a well-respected educator who put people first. As a matter of fact, since he was an educator in the town I grew up in, we could not stop at a local restaurant or store without his former students running up to him and thanking him for his kindness, support, and the lessons learned from his classes. I still live where I grew up and the first thing people ask me is, “How is your Dad, Lauren? Please send him my best, he had a positive impact on me.” Although my Dad didn’t hold a formal leadership title, I always knew that he was a leader who left a legacy of influence in the hearts and minds of the students and colleagues he served. I also know that he learned this from his father who was a leader in his community and spent a lot of his time giving back to people who were less fortunate than him. As I journeyed through my childhood, teen, and adult years, I still turned to my Dad for advice. One of the pieces of advice he continues to share is, “Lauren, leaders salute the person, not the title. There is a leader inside us all.”
As I have navigated 17 years in education, those words actively live in my mind. I am a natural observer of people. I take great interest in what others say, do, and act on. I look closely at the body language, reactions, and responses of others. I try to understand others perspectives and have empathy for the hidden stories I cannot see. When truly reflecting on the people I have saluted throughout my life in any capacity, the common gifts they possess are their ability to lead through inspiration. I can still hear and see the leaders who didn’t limit my potential, instead, they fueled it. When I formally stepped into leadership, I often reflect on the experiences that shaped the leader I am becoming.
Three actions that have inspired me to unleash the leader inside:
Trusting People: My 5th grade teacher saw the leader inside of me. She recognized a shy girl’s potential to lead and support others. She chose me to take on the responsibility of being a 1st- grade class helper. Every Friday, I woke up in the morning with some extra pep in my step. I knew that I would be spending a period in Ms. Miller’s 1st-grade classroom where she gave me the responsibility of facilitating a small reading group. It felt so good to feel important, to sit in front of a group of students and model what it meant to be a good reader even though I was a reader who had challenges of my own. Looking back, I think my 5th-grade teacher knew that I lacked confidence with reading and asked a 1st-grade teacher to let me lead this work so I could develop confidence of my own. In the book Trust and Inspire by Stephen Covey, he shares, “Operating with a trust and inspire mindset means you manage things and you lead people.” When we lead people by elevating them, it helps them to recognize their strengths. They may not see the power of that move in the moment, but will eventually recognize its impact.
Asking Good Questions: Recently, my superintendent shared an article with our leadership team during a professional learning session titled, “A Beautiful Question” by Jim Knight. Knight shares, “Good questions are real manifestations of your curiosity and caring. Good questions are like intellectual fireworks, leading to explosions of ideas and more learning for the questioner and the conversation partner.” Although I highly recommend reading the article, there are really two ideas I want to highlight. One is that my superintendent is masterful at planting seed ideas within the people she serves. She is always sharing resources, quotes, and thoughts that spark collaboration and innovation among her team. I have seen this happen through a simple group text message. All she has to do is share an article in a text and ask one question, “What do you think?” This brings me to my 2nd idea and that is that great questions can lead to more creation and meaningful conversations. Once the article is in the group text, it takes minutes before there is an explosion of back and forth conversation in the text thread between her leadership team. I have seen the new ideas get implemented only days after the intellectual fireworks commenced! She is leveraging our intellectual power and elevating the leaders inside us.
Choosing Words Wisely: When bringing out the leader in people, we must recognize the powerful impact words have on ourselves and others. In the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, there is a chapter titled, Be Impeccable With Your Words: Thanks to ChatGPT, I curated some of the quotes from the chapter:
- “The words we speak create our reality.”
- “Whatever we swear to, we create the truth.”
- “The word is a force, and it can create happiness or suffering.”
- “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.”
- “The way we communicate can either heal or destroy.”
- “The first agreement is the key to everything, because it opens the door to the other three agreements.”
- “Be impeccable with your word, and you will avoid your word becoming a poison that destroys yourself and others.”
Everyone’s perception is their reality. As leaders, when we are mindful of the words we use, we can better help others recognize the leader that lives inside them. You can help others shape the perception of themselves by positively communicating ideas, intention, purpose, and instill happiness that leads to bringing out the best in those you serve. Those actions directly impact every stakeholder in your organization and at the heart of it all, students.
When you salute the person and not the title, there is greater potential to find more leaders living among us. You have the potential to rekindle and ignite the spirit and joy within others. Great leaders inspire others to have confidence inside themselves. People yearn to be inspired. Breathe life into their gifts and ideas and show them the leader that awaits inside.