With the word "LEADERSHIP" engrained in our company name and in our programs, a question we often get asked is, "how do you (220YL) define 'leadership'"? We get excited when we get asked this question. Our answer is, "We don't. We let our students define leadership for themselves". And that is not a cop-out answer. It is something we firmly believe in.
There are several official definitions out there for leadership, and if you asked 50 people to define leadership, there is a good chance you would get 50 different answers. But too often, there is a false perception among students that leaders are the famous, most talented, loudest, and most outspoken men and women. This could not be further from the truth. If they are truly great leaders and have these qualities, these qualities are not what makes or defines them as leaders.
If you were to ask me for my personal definition of leadership, it is simply a person's (or organization's) ability to positively influence others. There are several ways to make this happen, but the strongest way to lead and influence others is to lead by example. In other words, the most influential leaders are the ones who TAKE ACTION. And often, they are willing to show the initiative to take action before anyone else is ready.
However, many also mistake "taking action" for being something groundbreaking or something that has to influence large groups of people. You can be an incredible leader by doing very small but powerful things, like showing compassion to your family, siblings, friends, and those who may not receive enough compassion. You can be an incredible leader by picking up trash in the hallway when no one is looking, by making your bed every morning, by being an exemplary student, by being the hardest worker on the team/in your group (not the loudest captain/group member), by standing up for what you believe in, standing up for others, and staying true to your values. Words can be influential, but nothing can replace action, even the smallest of actions. Student and adult leaders alike get their first opportunities to become leaders by being high-achievers. You cannot be a high-achiever if you do not take action.
That is why we do not define leadership for our students. Leadership can take on so many forms and can look very different in different settings. That is why we work with our students show them that each of them have already done or are doing things that are qualities of a leader, that it is not some mystery left to the loud, talented, and famous. Then we work with them to develop their definition of personal success, set goals based on that definition, and give them an action plan to go achieve those goals! By being able to set challenging goals and relentlessly pursue them, they are already displaying some of the fundamental qualities of an outstanding leader.
That is also why most of our blog posts have a 220 ACTION at the bottom. We try to give families something tangible they can implement immediately after reading a post that will spur action, or positive discussions that will lead to action.
Outstanding leaders also have some other amazing intangible qualities, which is why leadership is defined in so many ways and can serve as a platform for a company like ours. But you cannot be taught leadership- you have to experience leadership. To get your opportunities to experience leadership, you must first become an achiever. So the first step is to set and achieve goals based on what is important to you.
Have a discussion with your family about leadership. I don't want to provide too much structure because I think the conversation should go wherever your students and your family have the most interest and engagement. Some sample questions might be:
- What does being a leader mean to you?
- When you think of the word leader or leadership, who are the first people that come to mind and why?
- How are you a leader?
- What is one thing you could do right now to become a better leader?
- How are we (parents/students) great leaders for our family?
- How can we as (parents/students) be better leaders for our family?
And then most importantly, TAKE & INSPIRE ACTION as a result of this discussion!