My Experience of Leadership

Opinion / Leadership

My Experience of Leadership
George Slade , Editor, United States

Leadership comes from within, but it doesn't have to be just the hand you were dealt.

I was born to be a leader. But it has taken me about fifty years to figure out what this means.

I did not become a leader because of the traits I was born with, the family I was born into, or the education I received, although all of these were fortunate and, some might say, auspicious, even highly enviable. None of them alone, however, was sufficient to give me direction. And in aggregate, I found these life circumstances to be ambiguous at best, misleading and false at worst.

My parents used to tell me that, as their first child, I was teaching them what it meant to be a six-, seven-, eight-, nine-, ten-year-old. And they told me that the world was open to me, that I could become whatever I wanted to be. Such freedom! Such entitlement! But they never helped me know myself, or recognize what was truly mine in contrast to the idealized holograms that floated around me. So much was provided for me, or laid out in advance. I was never in a situation when I had to fall back entirely on my own resources; my resiliency was seldom tested, except in the controlled circumstances of summer camps.

My leadership models were impressive but vague. One ancestor, four generations removed, was a railroad tycoon. My great-grandfather married into that family, and its legacy has flowed through my family’s veins. Trouble is, an innovative leader like that is extremely hard to emulate willfully. Not everyone is equipped to be such a great man.

A maternal ancestor, slightly older than the tycoon, was a famous suffragette, one of the authors of the 19th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution giving women the vote. President McKinley brought her to the White House to celebrate her 80th birthday. I relish knowing that her energy, vision, and organizational commitment blends with the empire-building impulse; there is some yin with the yang. Once again, though, championing a cause like women’s suffrage is a complicated endeavor, and this great woman’s legacy was never recommended to me as the tycoon’s was.

Accepting oxymorons, like the co-presence of the tycoon and the suffragette, has become natural for me. After years of wrestling with dichotomies I have come to accept the Janus nature of my make-up. My leadership is based on listening closely, discovering and promoting strengths, and lending interpretive skills to add value to what has been over-looked and under-appreciated. At the same time, I have insight and vision that is unique; I can create new systems to accomplish desired ends. My goal is to celebrate and utilize the dialectic nature of my life, to appreciate that I can be one thing and another.

Leadership is not a cloak one wears; it is organic, and it evolves holistically from one’s circumstances. Even if it takes fifty years to emerge.

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