I’ve recently taken a disliking to the word leadership. In the capitalist and collegiate world that I currently occupy, leadership seems to be equitable with position. “Leadership” is something you are elected into, tapped into, or nominated for. “Leadership” means that you are a president, a secretary, or an executive member. “Leadership” is a means of creating and re-enforcing the hierarchical systems that are so ingrained in our capitalist society.
Is this a bad thing? Being recognized and rewarded for your hard work and accomplishments doesn’t sound like a negative thing to me. It instills a sense of pride and determination; it re-affirms. But what are we recognizing in this form of leadership appointment, the achievement itself or the work that occurred to attain it? The person’s new status or the person themselves?
Time and time again I hear my peers harp about the importance of leadership: “I have to get a leadership position this year to distinguish myself from other applicants.” “I need a resume booster, I’ll run for an executive board position.” This is what I have come to call “empty leadership.” These leadership positions are just that—positions. They seem to come with no responsibility, no growth, and no purpose. There is little to no aspiration of change, advocacy, innovation, or community building. In fact, it seems to be quite the opposite; the only apparent purpose of these leadership roles is to distinguish oneself apart from others.
To me, leadership should be about community. About self-discovery, social change, and development. It should be about authenticity, empowerment of others, and equity. Leadership should serve a purpose beyond filling a line on a resume or getting a great letter of recommendation. Leadership should be about congruency, commitment to values, group processes, transcendence of individual goals, embracement of controversy, and active engagement in community. Leadership should be what you do, not what title you hold. Above all, leadership should foster social change.
My form of leadership is radically different from the norm. As such, it is difficult to maintain my integrity and congruency with my values as I navigate in a world that tells me I am not enough if I don’t keep up with everyone else. I consider myself a leader—a very good one at that—yet I hold no executive board position. I am not a president of a club, a member of an honorary society, or an elected representative of my student body. I take great pride in my style of inclusive and lateral leadership, yet I am constantly met with conflict when I am not recognized for my efforts.
Am I selfish? Why is it that I resist positional leadership, yet feel as though I am failing when my version of leadership is not rewarded, praised, or acknowledged? Why is it that I still feel the urge to accept a normative leadership position, even when I know it is in direct contradiction to my values?
Because traditional leadership is so ingrained in me, in my peers, and in my society, that I feel entitled to recognition. And this attitude is destructive to my leadership model. Leadership is not about how much praise I get; it is about how much positive change I elicit… But when will others see the value of this model as much as I do? When will I be enough?
Emma Fox is a second year WILLer and Neurobiology major.