I was walking with my daughter in the Rotary Gardens when she turned to me and said, “Ooo. The creepy forest. How are we going to get out of here?”
“I think you should be the leader and lead us out of here.” I replied.
“I can’t be the leader. I don’t have a leader badge.”
“You don’t need a leader badge to be the leader.”
“Yes you do.”
“Well, will you hold my hand and walk together with me through the creepy forest?”
It wasn’t long before the hand-holding fell by the wayside and my daughter was leading the way, pointing out smooth, flat rocks that might do for skipping across the water. She was leading and doing a fine job. Enthusiastic. Willing to get her hands dirty. Willing to fail at skipping stones. Willing to try again. In short, she was leading from the trenches, without a “leader badge”.
It’s hard not to think about the qualities of leadership this time of year, when everyone and his or her brother, second cousin or ex-girlfriend is telling you how he or she will or will not be a better leader than someone else. It seems that everyone wants a leader badge—one that says “Senator” or “Congressional Representative”.
But, the best leaders are the ones who lead from the trenches, like Aaron Rodgers when the Packers played and lost to the Bears. He led from the trenches. When things were going wrong (and a lot of things went wrong in that game), he kept his cool. If that meant scrambling and coming up with turf on his helmet, he did it.
The leader badges of those who truly lead as part and parcel of a team are often so covered in muck and grime from their hard work that you can’t see the gleam of the badge. True leaders don’t make polishing badges a priority.
I think of the people in my life that I see as leaders. None of them hold political office. None of them are particularly wealthy or famous or even notorious. But all of them are able to lead from the trenches. They are as comfortable leading alongside of you as in front of you.
Yes, they delegate, some. But they don’t just delegate. Good leaders don’t merely delegate; they do. I know that statement goes against the mantra of practically every MBA program in existence, but in my experience, it’s true. Good leaders don’t leave the critical plays up to someone else. They get in and do the work alongside their team and get the critical work done right.
If the only way to score a badly needed touchdown is for the quarterback, cramping and tired to run it in, then he does just that. He doesn’t leave the critical play up to fate or the offensive line, if he can make it happen. He works with the offensive line and the receivers to put points on the board.
So when I hear political ads that are little more than fear-mongering rumor mills of he-said, she-said, it really annoys me. All they want is the leader badge. They don’t really want to be leaders.
For once, just once, I want to be able to vote for a leader because, when no one was looking that person just did the right thing. I want a leader who will take the hands of her constituents and walk with them through the creepy forest with enthusiasm, willing to try, willing to fail and willing to try again, with or without a leader badge.
But most of all, I sincerely hope that my daughter discovers that it isn’t the badge that makes a person a leader; it’s how a person lives her life.
©2010 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.