The Quiet Leader
Leadership is everywhere. I believe it is within all of us to varying degrees. Leadership is not always an in-your-face kind of a thing. It is not always something that you can be taught in formal class room settings. I would like to explore the idea of leaders who fly under the radar: quiet leaders.
I strongly believe that popularity is often mistaken for leadership. Just because someone has a lot of followers or a big squad does not mean they are a leader. There are a lot of people who can say catchy things or post pictures on their Instagram accounts that people gravitate towards. I argue they are not always leaders. They may have thousands of likes. Does that make them leaders? In some cases yes depending on what message or positivity they are spreading. For many though, they might be simply popular.
Leading is not defined quantitatively. Not every leader is a public figure. Not every leader has a big platform. Not every leader has the intention to lead. Leading is not always so deliberate or obvious. There are many leaders out there who are inspiring, encouraging and motivating in much more subtle, quiet ways. Sometimes it is through example. Sometimes it is through one’s passion that becomes infectious to others. Sometimes it is simply by being a gracious, humble human being.
Sometimes leading is built over time. Sometimes it is one’s journey that ends up cultivating leadership. To be an authoritative, respected leader people demand trust, transparency, relevance, and a sense of connection.
I have been a reader through a great organization, Read to a Child, for 4 years. I have been lucky to read to the same child all 4 years despite moments of questioning whether I was really making any difference in the child, Michael’s, life. From the very beginning, it was clear that children were either part of this program as they are in need of improved reading skills or that they are in need of extra attention. Michael falls into the latter category. He is an extremely introverted, quiet child. It took months to get him to even laugh. There were days of reading where I felt like yes, we are bonding and he is into this. Then there were just as many, if not more, days where I had to ask him to peel his face off of the table.
When I had the choice to continue on this year, my initial thought was not to. I felt perhaps Michael should be with a different reader to see if he has a more enjoyable, beneficial experience. Ultimately, I felt though like I would be quitting on him, and that was not something that I would ever want to do. I had my first 1:1 session with him a few weeks ago and it was one of our best ever. He was engaged, excited to read, and uncharacteristically very chatty.
One significant thing happened. Michael had been telling me since last year about how at a visit to the doctor he was told that he weighed too much and needed to lose weight. (I could write a whole blog about how much it breaks my heart to see a then 9 year old, now 10 year old worrying about his weight. Kids should be worrying about upcoming soccer games and math tests, not about how they are going to diet. Anyways, I digress.) Ever since then, he sprinkles out of the blue comments into our sessions about his weight. Anyways, I knew he had a doctor’s appointment since I last saw him as he had told me that he was scared to go because he thought it would hurt to get blood drawn and that he didn’t want the doctor to tell him that he needed to lose weight. When I asked if the doctor’s visit ended up being scary he said no. He did express he still feels like he weighs too much and so I did my best to give him encouragement. I asked how he likes playing sports and being active and to focus on that. I want him to be excited about exercise and fitness for more than the reason to lose weight. I told him how I love to work out and that I too lost weight. Look, I by no means want to undermine his parents or family. I just know in my heart that Michael keeps a lot to himself, and so if he is expressing his fears to me, it would be only natural to chat with him about it. He is not a kid who talks to talk or tells everyone everything. He feels comfortable enough with me to talk about it, and that is not something I take lightly.
I typically grapple with the idea that I, myself, am a leader, despite many people telling me I am. When I think about my recent reading session with Michael, I realized that I am starting to accept that yes, I am a leader. It is not about being in front of a room of kids. It isn’t about having one enlightening conversation or interaction. It is not about preaching to even one kid as to what I think he should or should not be feeling. It is about building trust and being someone that even one child confides in. It is about being authentic and listening to someone. It is about delivering a message at the right time to the right person. It is about understanding. It is not always about broadcasting my mission to the world, or even to Michael. It is about organically being able to instill something in someone, no matter how big or small. It is about quietly leading.
I have had many unexpected people comment or tell me how posts I have written were so relatable or powerful. I have had people tell me at CrossFit how I have inspired them or pushed them. I have had people who have worked for me tell me how I made a difference in something they have done or how they improved in something through my guidance. I am not saying all of this to toot my own horn. I say it because these are all things I do because I am passionate about them. They help me grow as a person, which indirectly is cultivating my own leadership. I did not start CrossFit to lead. I did not start writing to lead. I did not even start managing to lead. I simply love working out and feeling healthy. Writing is therapeutic and fulfilling for me. Managing is well, an exercise in many forms. The point is I do not go through life with the intention of leading. Yet, leadership is in me. I strongly believe it is in many of us quiet people and we should nurture that. Bring it out. Own it. The world needs more of it.
To steal the quote of Paul Shane Spear, I align with this school of thought: “As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person.” It is not always about how many people you have an impact on. It’s about how you impact someone.