I never really thought of myself as a natural born leader. I was always very shy, quiet growing up. I felt like an outsider trying to fit in whether it was at school or in my mostly white suburban community in New York. I never considered trying to be a leader in school whether it was a team captain of a sports team or student council.
The first time I was given a positional leadership in high school was as the president of our Asian Society Club. For some reason I felt comfortable and confident to lead and speak out through this role. Looking back I think it was probably for a few different reasons. I felt safe within that community. I had known many of the members through the years in and outside of our school community. I identified closely with many of the experiences that they had of being part of a minority group of Asian Americans in a mostly white community. I felt ownership as a member of this club and wanted to see more done. I vividly remember one moment of being a leader where I was upset with our club and I started going on a rant like they were my students. It was probably not one of my proudest moments as a leader, but I really took on the role of a leader. I think my friends in the club were all shocked and surprised with me at that moment, to see such me act in a way so opposite of my natural persona. After this experience as a leader and a few other experiences leading, I still never felt like a “real” leader nor like I had those skills necessary to lead.
Throughout my years as a teacher in NYC, I continued to not see myself as a leader and didn’t really try to get leadership positions. I still felt like I was not qualified nor good enough to be a leader. Fast forward many years and moving across the world to Singapore, I find myself here in Singapore, in the final year of a doctorate program on educational leadership through USC. I am in the middle of my final dissertation process and last few courses before I graduate with an official degree in educational leadership. So will that finally give me the feeling of being qualified as a “real” leader with these credentials?
My journey through these years as an educator and learner has shown me that leadership is a skill that anyone can learn and get better at. You don’t need the fancy degree to qualify you as a leader. You can lead and make change from you are at, even if you don’t have the positional leadership. You can actively impact your spheres of influences whether it’s one other person or a thousand other people. You don’t need to have an extroverted personality and natural born charisma. Leadership is intentional. It is about building relationships, listening, and serving others. It is a skill you can improve in with mentorship and practice.
I do have to confess that I did indeed learn a lot about leadership through my doctorate program I’m in right now, so I’m not trying to imply that the degree has not helped me improve. I do highly encourage continuing to pursue advanced degrees that do revolve around leadership! However, I do wish that I had recognized in my earlier years as a student and teacher that I had many misconceptions around who can be leaders and what makes someone a good leader. I wish that I had seen more mirrors of myself in the leaders in my schools and communities. At the same time, I am thankful for the leaders that have seen that potential in me and encouraged me to pursue leadership positions within my school and through this doctorate program.
In what ways do you lead from where you are?