"Can I Be a Leader If I Shy Away from the Spotlight?" (an Exploration of What it Means to Be a Leader)

A reader wrote to me last week:

"While I do want to be a leader, I definitely shy away from the spotlight so I look forward to seeing how different personalities can become leaders!"

I was so grateful to read this line because I know that what she's expressed here is a thought shared by many and it's something worth expanding on. It immediately got me thinking about leadership and what it looks like to be a leader. 

I had an immediate impulse to Google, "what does it mean to be a leader?" but stopped myself. I really wanted to find out for myself what my own thoughts are in this moment of my life about what it means to be a leader. So I pulled out my journal and started writing.

A leader...

Empowers others to be their best, reach their potential and become all they can be.

Is focused on service.

Allows and enables others to shine.

Practices deep compassion for herself and others.

Continuously assesses whether she is walking her talk and corrects as necessary.

Isn't immune to making mistakes but is committed to taking full personal responsibility when she does.

Is able to ask for and receive support when she needs it.

Is committed to something larger than herself.

Is always learning and remains forever curious.

Is committed to her own growth.

Keeps an open mind.

Holds a long term vision for the world she wants to see and acts in ways that are in alignment with that long term vision, even at the cost of shorter term, more personal results.

Shows rather than tells.

Shows up, consistently - for herself, for others and for whatever supports the mission she is working towards. (*Keeping in mind the point on compassion when she is not able to show up and allowing herself to be human.)

Is courageous.

Looks for the possibilities and opportunities in every situation.

Is willing to be vulnerable.

Knows that sensitivity isn't a weakness.

Practices living from love, not fear.

When I'd finished my list, I went back to the note I received and had these thoughts:

Leadership and 'being in the spotlight' don't have to go together. In fact, they may often not. It's very easy, especially when you look towards the online world today, to think that leadership means being really 'out there' but I don't believe that to be true. Great leadership is often quiet, understated and behind the scenes.  

Leadership is a choice we make. If we want to lead, we need to know what leading well means to us. Then we need to make a choice and commitment to live into that way of being as best we can each and every day.

We don't have to change anything to start leading. I know from experience that it can feel that in order to be the leader you want to be you have to be doing something different in your life. But when I look at the list I came up with, I realise that leadership can start today, now, wherever you are and whatever you're doing. Because leadership isn't attached to doing a particular job, starting a particular business or running a particular project - it's about how you show up to life and who you're being, now. 

You don't have to shy away from the spotlight forever. Whilst being a leader doesn't have to mean being in the spotlight, I think it's important to remind ourselves that what we think we're capable of today isn't fixed forever. A woman I recently finished some training with told us how a few years earlier she'd said that she would never be able to run group work. Yet here she was beautifully leading a room of at least twenty people. In many ways, we don't need to concern ourselves with what we think we're capable of, because in truth our vision will show us who we need to become. When you're pulled by something bigger than yourself what you need to do and who you need to become in order to bring that vision to life will become clear. Then it's only up to you to step into that place.  

Being a leader isn't tough because we have to be in the spotlight, or loud or 'out there'. Being a leader is tough because it calls on us to make choices about who we're being in every moment and sometimes those choices are the hard ones - the ones that require more effort, the ones that ask us to put someone or something else before ourselves, or the ones that mean saying no to short term gain in order to hold a bigger vision for the world.

Love and courage,