For a long time, leadership for me meant having people follow your direction; success meant being responsible for the largest or the most high-profile team; an achievement was having your name on the tip of your seniors’ tongues. Back then I knew I wanted to be a leader, a manager, and I was very vocal about making sure everyone was aware of my grand ambitions. Whilst I hope I can get away with sheepishly passing it off as childlike eagerness crossed with a healthy dose of ‘the arrogance of youth’, I am very grateful to the people and experiences that showed me a different kind of leadership. I’ve come to realise that leadership isn’t made up of numbers and statistics, but individual people with unique personalities and skills, all working to get the best from each other.
Of all these experiences, one in particular – don’t ask me when or why (although the where was probably a not-so-subtle episode of the Office!) – has stayed with me:
‘Empowering people is the most important thing a leader can ever do. Don’t get jealous of the successes of those around you, instead, empower your peers to achieve more: that way, you both succeed.’
Now I admit, I am a diehard fan of the cheesy ‘live, love, laugh’ inspired sentiments, but putting the cringe to one side, the underlying message of empowerment in this quote really resonates with me, more so now than ever. In today’s climate of uncertainty, confusion and worry, I believe we have witnessed a new kind of leadership. Today’s leader is one that does something because it is the right thing to do, rather than because it will get them noticed; they often aren’t those ‘at the top of their game’, instead they are the overlooked or the forgotten; and more often than not, they are young people taking action where it’s needed. Unassuming and humble, these leaders are those who have volunteered to help someone in need; baked cakes for hospital workers; called an elderly neighbour ‘just to check in’; or set up a WhatsApp group for the virtual pub quiz on a Friday night. This is the type of leader I want to become.
They are kind, generous, live by their words, and most importantly empower me to look around my little bubble for ways I can make a positive difference to my community. These leaders are not jealous when a friend’s Instagram post gets more likes than theirs, instead they applaud that friend, saying ‘#inspiring! Great work!’. They have a knack for drawing out the best in us, even if we forgotten it’s there.
Young people have really stepped up to this simultaneously global and individual responsibility, full of kindness, compassion, understanding and initiative. I hope this kind of leadership style continues to permeate our society, as these are the attributes we will give our leaders of tomorrow.