My friend Nick asked me first. Then Marci said the same thing. And then today, one of my favorite creatives posed a similar question. They all wanted to know, what gives you the right to be a young leader? What gives you credibility?
Wait, what? What do you mean what gives me the right? I must admit that I didn’t have a good answer, even the third time around. To me, it’s like asking what gives women the right to work?
It seems to me that if I want to do something, then I should do it. This notion that young people have something to prove, that we must pay our dues, is outdated. But it’s obviously on the minds of my peers.
My gut reaction was to reply, “because I work really frickin’ hard. How about that?” But somehow that didn’t seem like the leader thing to do.
There’s a new trend where we’re checking under the rug to see what has been swept underneath. It’s a matter of ethics, a matter of accountability, credibility, and simply realizing that if we’re following, we should pay closer attention to who is leading.
We’ve always wanted our leaders to be transparent. But as it becomes easier to create yourself on the internet and tell whatever story you wish, being transparent is increasingly difficult. You as a blogger and who you are in real life may or may not always match up.
Indeed, our generation is moving up so quickly, that discrepancies aren’t just showing up in the online world; who you are in one job could be drastically different from who you are in the next.
And if we’re changing so drastically and consistently, do we have the expertise to move to the front of the line?
Questioning the validity of a person’s leadership skills is why more leaders aren’t stepping up to the plate in the first place. It’s why we have a leadership crisis in areas like the environmental and nonprofit sectors. And it’s why a slew of Generation Y doesn’t want to be engaged at all.
There’s nothing special to being a leader. You have to deal with a lot once you jump in, sure. It’s a challenge and it’s hard work and it’s rewarding and it’s fantastic. But leaders aren’t all that different from the rest of us.
My organization just finished a series on how local leaders in politics went from interest to action. We had a senator, state representatives, our mayor, our county executive, aldermen, lobbyists, and more. Across the board, every single political leader expressed that their story wasn’t unique. They saw an opportunity and went for it. Funny how remarkably easy it is to make a difference.
I don’t have a special skill set to be a leader. I’ve never taken leadership classes, and while I’ve been in positions of leadership since high school, I don’t think this makes me more qualified to be one now. It’s just, I can’t imagine doing anything else. Like, when I visited Madison to decide on where I would attend school, I felt in my bones that this was the place to be.
You will mess up along the way. You will make mistakes. You’ll take things personally. You won’t want to be a leader sometimes, and sometimes you might not be.
You won’t have all the skills, and perhaps it’s easier to think about it as if you’re a leader in training. But if you make that commitment, you’re already miles ahead of everyone else. And the others will follow. Because you believe in yourself. And that’s half the battle to believing in others.