I have been thinking about leadership lately. What does it mean to be a leader? What personal characteristics does that require? Is a leader defined by their followers, by their dissenters? What is required of them when they are a leader? And why am I so scared to be one?
In our society, most leaders seem to be figure heads. It appears that most of them have a team of people in the background telling them what to do. And while I agree that everyone should collaborate in their creations, it seems that most of our leaders aren’t creating much. They aren’t standing up for much. It seems that they are maintaining the status quo. So to me, they are not leading. They are staying put.
If a leader maintains the status quo, their followers do the same. They are running through life on auto-pilot. They don’t know anything is wrong unless there is a crisis. And maybe that is how our society defines leaders. A person who can keep the crisis from happening so we don’t need to change.
I don’t see it that way. I see a leader as a change-agent. I see a leader as someone with the courage to invoke or at least acknowledge the crisis. I see a leader as someone who leads us somewhere other than here. And that takes a different type of person. That takes someone with the confidence to handle some difficult feedback, the creativity to look at life differently, the courage to tell people they need to change their perspective and the transparency to invoke trust from others.
This leads me to believe that our current societal leaders aren’t actually leaders. They are maintainers. They don’t want change. They want ‘same’.
As a survivor of childhood trauma, most of my innate leadership characteristics have been hidden under years of abuse. While available in small amounts, there are layers of fear, distrust and helplessness that must be peeled away to find them. At the same time, the characteristics with which I was born will not be ignored. If I choose not to address the fear, my leadership qualities will show up in dysfunctional ways. My confidence will show up as egoism. My creativity will show up as drama. My courage will show up as inappropriate risk-taking. And my transparency will show up as improper sharing. And I don’t suggest this as a hypothetical situation. I have experienced all of it.
But I can’t be a leader with the fear and distrust still running my life. If I try it, I will not be the type of person that others should follow. I have to understand that change is possible, that life can be lived to the fullest. Otherwise, how can I tell others these things? How can I show others a direction that I have been unwilling to take myself? I can’t. I can only take them where I have been.
And leaders go places that most others have not been. That takes conquering the fear we were burdened with in childhood. And for survivors, that is not a small amount of fear. Sometimes, just making it through the day requires tremendous courage. Leaving the house can feel like a major victory. But in a way, doesn’t that qualify us as the best fear-busters in the world. Who knows how to conquer fear more than us? After all, “courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it”. Nelson Mandela said that so it must be true.
If I have to overcome significant fear to get out of the bed in the morning, then I know fear. I know how to live with it. I know how to overcome it, drive through it, integrate it, write about it and process it. Doesn’t that make me a prime candidate for leadership? Or does that make me a prime candidate for exhaustion? I’m not sure which.
But we can’t have maintainers doing the important work. The status quo is not acceptable to me. The status quo won’t do anything to stop what happened to me as a child from happening to other children. The status quo won’t end sexual violence and child abuse and trafficking. The status quo won’t end the power differential between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ because the status quo maintains it. So I am going to have to take my fear-conquering expertise and become a leader, even when the idea scares me. I am used to being scared. My childhood maintainers taught me how to be scared. But they also taught me how to be scared and keep going. They taught me that fear won’t kill me and it doesn’t have to stop me. I don’t think they were planning to teach me that, but they did.