Remember playing follow the leader when you were a kid? The “leader” did something and you mimicked exactly what they did. If you did something different you were “out”. I recently watched some kids playing the game and thought to myself, this is one of the many reasons why we are conditioned to believe there can only be one leader in every group and that we should be “good” by complying with those in leadership.
In this game, we are taught to repeat or act without question for fear of being out of the game. Does this ring true in your life as you grow-up too? As a matter of fact, some of our school programs teach this as well. I have witnessed children being told their work is “wrong” and not getting credit because they didn’t follow the “right way” to getting the answer, even though they came up with the right answer. Children are disciplined if they question a teacher, even if the teach was giving incorrect information. Some classrooms don’t allow you to take a bathroom break if it’s not at the scheduled time. Seriously? Do they really expect everyone to be on the same bathroom schedule?
Do you ever hear that little voice that is telling you to do the “right” thing? Sometimes we hear that voice when we are not certain why we’re doing something, we’re involved in something that doesn’t align with our integrity, values or goals or other times we hear the voice as a guide to direct us to do the right thing. For instance, have you ever been sitting in a room when a question is asked and no-one is answering? That little voice inside is telling you the answer, you know the answer, but you stay quite because everyone else is too? When the answer is revealed you are disappointed in yourself because you knew the answer, but didn’t speak up.
That quiet little voice is the leader within. We all have it, but not all of us listen to it. Being a leader isn’t just about a title, having a team or direct reports or being in a lead position. We can and are leaders in every aspect of our lives. Others learn from your actions more than your words. Everything you do in life puts you in a position to lead. Children, loved ones, co-workers, neighbors, community members, etc are watching you whether you realize it or not.
Leadership has many definitions and can be displayed in many ways. A true leader is aware of their actions, acts with integrity and is respectful of others. When you’re listening to the leader within, you’re not afraid to speak up, question, challenge or leave something that doesn’t fit with your values or ethics. Keep in mind that when a leader does any of those things they do it in an appropriate manner. This does not including yelling, screaming, belittling and things of that nature; it is done respectfully and with tact. You know you’re listening to the leader within when you do the right thing even when no-one is there to witness your behavior.