One day I had a conversation with a few students about some poor choices they made. I mentioned I expected them to be leaders in the school. One of the students said he didn’t want to be a leader for anybody in the school. I think this is a pretty common attitude for people in general, but especially for teenagers.
We often don’t want the responsibility which comes with being a leader. Or we think leadership means we have to tell people what to do. Actually, whether we want to be a leader or not doesn’t even matter.
The Responsibility of Leadership
John Maxwell said, “Leadership is influence. Just because someone has a title doesn’t mean that person is a leader.” The intention of Maxwell’s statement is, regardless of position or title, everyone CAN be a leader. However, if leadership is influence, then everyone already IS a leader. Because our actions are influencing the people around us in one way or another…in either a positive or negative direction.
Some of us may only have one person our actions influence. At the same time, some of us may have one million people we influence. Whether it is one person or one million people, we have a responsibility. We don’t choose that responsibility. It is given to us when we are born. But we do choose what we do with our responsibility.
First Level of Leadership: Influence
Actually, we have three levels that take us from the surface to deeper levels of leadership. The first level is INFLUENCE. Influence simply means getting someone to do something. This is what most people think about when they hear leadership. But it’s actually just management. It is simply about moving people or resources to get a desired outcome. It is transactional. There are many ways we can influence people from asking them politely to manipulating or threatening them. And, as with all three of these levels of leadership, it can move people in a positive or negative direction.
Influence may be one form of leadership, but it’s not always positive. And it’s definitely not the best form of leadership we can employ.
Second Level of Leadership: Inspiration
The second level of leadership is INSPIRATION. This type of leadership shifts from coercion to encouragement. If we break down the word encouragement, we see the word courage inside of it. The leader’s words or actions inspire someone to find the courage within themselves to do something. However, inspiration is short-lived. We might be inspired to take action at one place in one time, but we need constant encouragement to keep going. Again, inspiration can be used for negative purposes. Gang members may inspire new recruits in an effort to commit crimes and maintain their power in the streets.
Inspiration may go deeper than influence, but it doesn’t go deep enough.
Third Level of Leadership: Impact
The third level of leadership is the most enduring. It is IMPACT. Impact occurs when we make a difference in someone’s life to the point they live in a new way. Think about a mindset or a way you act. Can you pinpoint exactly who may have impacted your beliefs or actions? It might be a parent. Maybe it’s a teacher or coach. But it usually doesn’t happen from one action or one thing that is said. And that’s because it takes a relationship to make an impact on someone.
Ultimately, the words or actions of a leader which impact us are backed up by the life they live. It’s their whole being. It doesn’t mean they won’t make mistakes. But it does mean they accept the responsibility to create a better version of themselves every day.
However, we must realize the power of impact can alter someone’s life in a negative way as well. The example we set can move others on a destructive path whether we want to or not. We control our beliefs, our words, and our actions. But we don’t control how someone will use our example in their own life.
The Mindset of Writing Our Autobiography
So what is a tool we can use to help us move to this deepest level of leadership impact?
We need to embrace the mindset that every day we are writing our autobiography. Whether we realize it or not, our autobiography is being written through our beliefs, words, and actions. We may not want the responsibility of leadership in our hands, but our autobiography will influence, inspire, and impact others. People are reading our autobiography in the present and people will read our autobiography in the future. If we are not intentional about the story we write, we very well could influence, inspire, and impact others in a negative way.
As teachers and coaches, we have all made the choice to be leaders of the young people we work with. And that means our autobiography is at the front and center of our relationships with our students. So hopefully we don’t buy into the voices which tell us our job is just to teach math, or teach science, or coach lacrosse or win football games. Sure, we may have a job description that says those things are what we do. But if we don’t go any deeper than that, we will never reach our full potential.
More Than a Job
Teaching and coaching are more than just a job. They are a calling. Our vehicle may be whatever subject we teach or sport we coach. That may be WHAT we do. But it’s not WHO we are. Our leadership doesn’t come from our subject, our position, or our title. Our leadership comes from the life we live.
This is why classroom leadership is so important. It is the only way to go deeper and really have an impact on people. Yes, our curriculum and subject matter are important. We can study the X’s and O’s of our sport. Sure, classroom management can help us perform effectively. But the calling of teaching and coaching requires us to go deeper. It says we must write our autobiography and change ourselves so we can touch the hearts of our students and athletes.
Give It Away
The idea of writing our autobiography is not meant to put stress on us. It should take away our inclination to conform to the thoughts and opinions of others. However, it should create pressure within ourselves to give away our gifts to others.
Remember, ultimately our autobiography is not for ourselves. It is meant to send us on a quest to discover all of the gifts and abilities we have inside. But the quest isn’t over until we give those gifts and abilities away to the world. We do this through our relationships with the people we interact with on a daily basis. When we accept the calling of teaching and coaching, we take on the responsibility of working to move from influence to inspiration, and, ultimately, to impact.
So as we write our autobiography today, let’s do it in a way that guarantees the only form of impact we can have is a positive one.