I was one of those Leadership kids in my Freshman year. Over 20 years ago it was the last year of Junior high and not the first year of high school. We had meetings and someone took minutes, but it was really a free pass out of class to run around and plan school dances and fundraisers. There was so much more to what it was supposed to be, but I only ran for my office as a popularity contest on someone else’s social agenda. I got the hall pass and sweatshirt and front and center seats for major assemblies, the panorama picture and graduation. We booked the d.j. and diluted fruit punch concentrate into hydration for the circles of dancers that showed off their moves, but would pretend to be wall flowers as soon as the lights were back on. We sold tickets and decorated a depressing boys gym into a room suitable for raging hormones, gross insecurities and cliques of kids rushing in hordes for potential dance battles and fist fights. I never understood what the goal of the class was meant to be because we had a series of tasks but I didn’t have the understanding of the reasons behind them.
In recent years, my thoughts on leadership have grown. During my last pregnancy, we spent a lot of time at amusement parks. The ex lost over 100 pounds and he wanted to go and keep going with his new-found energy. We had littles and I was pregnant with another couple’s twins. We would walk in a line where he would lead and I always took up the rear to make sure we didn’t lose anyone. That was when I decided I wanted to be more than a mom. I wanted to be a leader to my sons. It was in noticing that our pace wasn’t set by the most capable, but by the one that needed the most guidance and hand holding, which switched between kids several times per hour. In taking the rear, and making sure my kids were on course, I was guiding them. I was encouraging them to catch up to Daddy and watching that they didn’t wander in a different direction.
Leadership isn’t about telling people what to do and expecting them to jump because of your position or their fear of you. It’s not about puffing up your position, but letting your team know the ways they are a valuable and essential part of your team. It’s about guidance and encouragement to lead your team to want to do better and think in ways that promote the team, and not the individual. Leadership means the leader is as much an integral part of the team as every single member, but the leader is accountable for fostering a culture of advancement.
For my family, leadership is about establishing a compelling direction and for now that is a direction founded in acceptance and unconditional love. No matter what choices they make in life and love, they know I will always love and support them. Soon after they started telling me they loved me, I started telling them that I will always love them, whether or not they love boys or girls. Their choices might not always make me proud, but I will always be proud to be their mother. I do my best to encourage open communication and I don’t place my shame or my feelings on them if I can help it. I help them solve problems and the day they stop coming to me with them, is the day I know I have failed them as a leader.
My goal for my family is to foster relationships that build each other up. I hear it gets easier when brothers are older. Leadership in this way takes the direction of enabling a structure of support. It’s encouraging them when they play together and discouraging destructive competition. It’s in helping each other to do well. It’s a thank you when one sacrifices for the other, or when one helps with a homework problem explanation when my reserves are low and I need the perspective of someone else in my single mom home.
One day the authority I empower as mom will help my children internalize my ideals. When those thoughts become theirs and they understand their own manifest and latent benefits, they will idealize and live out these lessons in every area of their lives. Leadership teaches others to lead their own lives with intention. It’s not enough to be an angry mother with timbered calls of authority. It’s the gentle guidance that makes them search for answers on their own, with nudges from me that lead them along the path I had scouted in my own adolescent adventures.
It’s been a difficult year. There’s no way to sugarcoat that. Being positive is part of my personality but it’s also about leadership. If my kids see that I can be positive in a negative situation, it shows all of us that our answers are not impossible. It’s about knowing I will make mistakes and just get things wrong. It’s allowing them to hold me accountable and asking them to call me out on my prideful ignorance. I frequently remind myself to be the mom my children deserve, and not the mom I feel like being. I let them know that our family is ours, and our home is not just mine. It helps them find enthusiasm in being part of our family and obligation becomes privilege.
I believe leadership is found in doing what is right, rather than what is easy. It falls in line with financial stewardship and embracing the idea that you don’t know all of the answers, and you don’t have to, but your curiosity will be rewarded with at least trying to find the answers.