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Professional Development

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Modeling Leadership

People too often associate leadership with a status to be earned, or a title that bestows power. Certainly, under some circumstances, those definitions are accurate. But I like to think of leadership differently.

There is a belief I hold dear: We all can be leaders, and each of us has our own unique brand of leadership to contribute to the world. The question is if, when and how we actually ever step into our leadership.

Because leadership, from that perspective, has nothing to do with a job title or position. Instead of a status, leadership is the way you interact with the world. Leadership is your contribution to every interaction, every relationship, every group you are a part of. Leadership is how you choose to live your life. Sometimes that leadership might roar, and sometimes it might whisper. Sometimes it is a speech from a bull horn, and sometimes it is a quiet glance.

The quiet co-worker who stays in the cubicle and doesn't ever talk at staff meetings? That co-worker might best step into his or her leadership by working hard to provide the platform for another to speak. The college student who has a developing passion for art? That student might best step into his or her leadership by showing younger students that you can follow your dreams. The full-time mom who juggles the schedules of multiple children? That mom might best step into her leadership by ensuring that those children never go a day without knowing they are loved. There are as many ways to step into leadership as there are people living on this earth.

Finding our leadership is about finding our best selves—and then figuring out how and where to contribute our best selves to the world. Stepping into our leadership is about having the courage to do just that. Stepping into our leadership means loving who we are, and having the courage and vulnerability to share who we are with the world, without apology.

And how do we model leadership for the youth that we serve? Once we've fully stepped into our own leadership, we can point out how our leadership might look different than the leadership displayed by those to our right and those to our left. The more "ways to be a leader" that we can point out to our youth, the more readily they will be able to discover what their brand of leadership is and begin to step into that for themselves. Sometimes that is easier to see in others, so we can also help our youth by pointing out—and praising—those moments when they are being fully authentic and expressing their own unique thoughts, ideas, passions and creativity to the group.

Being a mirror to our youth, showing them what gifts they bring to our programs, can go a long way in helping them start to see that for themselves.

Written by Erika Petrelli, Senior Vice President at The Leadership Program.