Why We Might Be Thinking About Leadership All Wrong

If you were even remotely nerdy in high school like I was, you probably did DECA, the business competition club. Actually, if you were in high school in general, you were probably a part of some club, regardless of whether you attended meetings or not (...guilty). I remember sitting for hours at my desk, preparing for my performance indicators, creating amateur charts and graphs, and typing up pages of analysis. After dedicating so much of my time to this club, I decided it was only right to apply for the leadership board.

During the interview process, we always talk about what we can “bring to the table” and how we can bring change to the club. The reason many of us apply, and eventually win these leadership positions is the desire to bring change to the organization we’ve been a part of for so long. What one decides to do afterwards varies. Some people are satisfied with just getting the position and never show up again. Others may do what is needed, such as attending meetings and doing the basic tasks that come with the position, but their promise of reform is never fulfilled. There are those leaders who take full charge the moment they’re given the keys. I never really knew what to expect from my first big leadership position in high school, but I certainly didn’t expect what came next.

Every day, for hours, my DECA adviser (shout out Ms. Harris) and I sat together and organized every single piece of paperwork to ensure every member and activity was taken care of. New members would text me, asking for me to review their papers. The other members and I organized weekly meetings and workshops. Eventually, I found myself running through the hallways and bursting into classrooms, chasing down students and their manuals on the day they were due. I remember at one point editing a kid’s TABLE OF CONTENTS minutes before the deadline to prevent him from being disqualified. When I was dealing with the crisis of my car battery dying for third time that year, I was also on the phone helping a freshman with his crisis of whether he was prepared to compete the next day. I wasn’t in this leadership position for myself anymore, but for the other members.

I suppose this was partially my fault. After all, there was no need to chase those members who didn’t want to put in the effort. However, as a leader, I (oddly enough) wanted my members to succeed. I felt that I would have failed as a board member if they didn’t win. I knew what I needed to do. I knew how I was going to succeed. Yet they didn’t. I realized that this is what I signed up for: to serve others.

A leader is not someone who sits back and lets others do the work. A true leader is hands on, always working with their people to understand what needs to change. They want to understand how they can fully help their people succeed. They want to see their community thrive. That may include seeing others do better than themselves. At the end of the day, a real leader doesn’t work to serve themselves, they work to serve others.

I urge you to consider what makes a good leader and seek that out in the leaders we have today.