Reading over the student testimonials at the close of the first Young Leaders of Tomorrow (YLT) program, I noted one recurring sentiment, which was, ‘before this program, I didn’t really know what leadership was.’ Now it is time for me to confess something as well: neither did I.
Looking back on my high school and college career, I could certainly point out moments when I was in a leadership position… as Executive Editor-in-Chief of my high school newspaper, as a Lead Intern for the Jewish Heritage Programs at the University of Pennsylvania, and so on. I think many my age could do the same. But did I ever think about what exactly that meant, beyond the mere fact that I was, on the pyramid of a student organization, somewhat ‘higher up’ than my peers? Well no, to tell you the truth, I didn’t. I’ve always known that leadership experience was something to seek out, and that I learned a lot as I held those different positions, but I don’t think I ever knew precisely why it was all so important.
When Senior Pastor at Island ECC Brett Hilliard, one of the many wonderful speakers that took part in the YLOT program, wrote on the board ‘POWER vs. INFLUENCE,’ something clicked in the room. The ‘power’ to tell people what to do, to direct a team, and to be a ‘boss’ are ideas that have been inextricably linked with the notion of leadership in our society, or at least in the competitive educational environments in which I’ve grown up.
After getting to know the students in session one of YLT, I got the feeling that many of them are experiencing similar pressures and may be coming away from their own schools with similar impressions. However, with the juxtaposition ofpower and influence written before us, a moment of what they would call AWKWARD silence passed, and distinctions began to be made. Influence means striving to inspire, power means striving to rule. Influence is selfless, power is selfish. Having influence can involve rallying people to change the world for the better, and helping others reach their potential. Havingpower can lead to just the opposite. An effective leader, the students came to realize, hopes to have influence, not power.
The concept of leadership in order to influence people to make positive changes for themselves or for others in the world is something that found application, and I’m proud to say great success, in the two teams’ NGO projects. But reflecting on what leadership truly means and why it is so important also related, for me at least, to the enormous project of figuring out whoyou are as well.
This project, I discovered, doesn’t just involve knowing your strengths, what you’ve always been good at, what you love. It also means accepting those things about yourself that you still have to work on. For me, as I learned in those two weeks through the mock interview and the creepily-accurate Enneagram workshop (a personality exercise used by leading corporations around the world), it’s erasing the self-doubt that stops me time and time again from making decisions. It’s having the confidence to speak a little louder in conversation or even classroom settings. It’s being aware of the fact that, and the reason why I say ‘I guess’ so often when speaking to an interviewer. While these are characteristic #type6problems, they are also things about myself that I’ve always somewhat known, but have never really been pushed to talk about and try to change.
Perhaps students from the YLT program reading this blog post will be surprised to know that many of my reflections and experiences from this program mirrored theirs. After all, as a Junior Facilitator, I was supposed to have this all figured out, right? No, not quite. The JF position may seem like one of leadership, but it is actually more about the true meaning of leadership—having influence, guiding others, learning about who you are—than it is about the leadership of power, of alleged flawlessness.
This brings me to something the students may not have realized, but that most of all I want them to know: we, too, were learning from the speakers, from the senior facilitators, from each other, and from each one of the ten high schoolers that entered room 606 of Youth Square that first Monday morning. As much as it seemed like we were guiding you, you were guiding us too… and well, I think that is just downright super amazing. So thank you guys.