Leadership When You Don’t Feel Like A Leader

When I was in kindergarten, I was painfully shy. It was so terrible that my “Native American” name for our Thanksgiving activity was “Princess Quiet One,” because I didn’t really talk to anyone outside of my family. Ignoring the blatant racial insensitivity of that naming exercise, it was pretty clear at that age that I was uncomfortable around others. It was still obvious for years to come as well. I didn’t grow out of that shyness until around third grade, and back then no one would have seen my capacity for leadership.

There are some who would struggle to believe that story or even fathom that I to this day still hesitate with taking charge. If I’m not prepared, I pale at the thought commanding a room. Without meaning to do so, my identity at Champlain College centers around the leadership roles I have taken both in and outside of the classroom. As Vice President of Student Government Association (SGA) and Chairwoman of the Stiller Women in Business, I find myself in situations everyday that call me to exercise those positions.

House of Representatives Meeting for Champlain College’s Student Government Association. Photo by Stephen Mease

For a serious introvert like me, it was a gradual climb. My first year of college I would have trembled at the idea of giving a speech in front of a couple thousand family members and students or leading a weekly meeting of twenty-six students, faculty, and staff. Today it isn’t so bad, because I pushed myself over the years to be more open and put myself out there.

This growing process was about more than just overcoming stage fright, I had to work through the concept that leadership is not about one person of the other, but team work that really builds on the strengths of every individual. In August I had the pleasure of attending a conference for the American Student Government Association, where I met Dr. Christopher Irving. A former SGA President at Ramapo College of New Jersey turned educator, he lead a session on social and emotional multi-intelligence in leaders. To him its about more than what hard shills you bring to the table, and the talk centered around the way we empower leadership in others.

Its a strange thing to not feel 100% confident in your own skills, yet simultaneously guiding others to find their sense of leadership. Dr. Irving eased those fears when he conveyed an important concept: the Leadership Learning Edge (LLE).

Telling a group of strangers to order themselves in age is easy. Quantitative exercises have no grey area, but asking the same group to rank themselves in their confidence as leaders? Not as simple. The LLE is an approach  when thinking about who has the capacity for leadership, because it isn’t something that is stagnant. I appreciate it because is a matter of looking inward and being self-reflective.

Ask yourself: “What aren’t you good at? What can get better?” And in others ask: “Are you struggling? Is there something I can help with?

Fellow officer of the Stiller Women in Business and I brainstorming ideas for programming that would interest our members.

In asking these questions, you can learn what makes your team click. You can bond with your team, and you can offer them support if they need it.

The common thought is that leadership is something you are born with. I’ve heard it a hundred times from people who say it cannot be taught, but I beg to differ. The skills of listening, organizing, and empowering others can be honed over time. Even still the traditional style of bold and in your face leadership is not the only way to be effective.

For me it has been mostly trial and error, but the path has shown me what my true capacity for empathy and initiative. In a strange turn of events, I am passionate about instilling these feelings in others like the people who did that for me. That sense of empowerment is uplifting when you find it in yourself, but its truly invigorating when you find it in others.


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