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The Essence of Leadership

The military is filled with leaders. There are the top-dog in-charge-of-thousands-of-soldiers leaders, and there are the squad leaders, in charge of a handful of people. And then there are us - leaders maybe not of people, but of ourselves. We are in charge of our everyday lives, commanding our actions and thoughts.

But, what exactly is a leader? Well, according to the Oxford Languages Dictionary, a leader is ‘the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.’ Simple, right? Actually… I don’t think so. A leader is so much more than just someone who leads.

To me, a leader is a person who pushes themselves ahead of the pack, blazes the way, and steps out of their comfort zone. A leader is not only followed by but also trusted and appreciated by those around them. A leader takes charge of and also listens to, respects, and guides the group. A leader doesn’t just lead but sets the example, pushes, motivates, and respects those who follow them.

Now, the question might be - how do you become a leader? Well, just as there is a more complex meaning to a leader, I believe you can’t simply become a leader. It’s not a let-me-watch-a-few-videos-and-learn-it-quickly kinda thing. The leader you are/become takes years to form. It takes observation and appreciation of the most minute things. It takes constant and continual learning of lessons and discovering new things. It takes courage to stand out, motivation to push yourself, and drive to keep going. It takes a whole life of experience and influence.

The leader I am is not due to one event but to hundreds of them. The leader I am is not accredited to me but to countless others.

In second grade, my teacher taught me to love those who come from different backgrounds. Whether from the Netherlands, Switzerland, or Germany, rich or poor - they all deserve to be included and all deserve the same level of respect. As a leader, all your followers (and even as a student, all your classmates) should be treated equally.

My fourth-grade school showed me that love and silent judgment can coexist. There will always be something about you that others don’t like. Live with it. You can’t change their opinions, and you should never change yourself for them. Maybe it’s hard and maybe you don’t like it, but leading (and living) doesn’t just consist of those troubles.

One of my sixth-grade teachers taught me that leaders don’t always have it together. Personal problems plague life, and only the best of leaders can push past them. It’s okay to feel that hurt, it’s okay to be disorganized, it’s all human. Leaders don't need to force on a mask, tamp those feelings down. Leaders are also humans - they also have problems. But even with that, leaders learn how to separate their personal troubles from their professional ones; they learn to not misplace their emotions.

A coach I had proved that sometimes there are people I won’t agree with. There are leaders out there who will push me back instead of forward. But if this coach showed me anything at all, it’s what I would do differently. I learned to not lead my followers the way they led me. Being open-minded and willing to answer questions goes a long way.

My seventh and eighth-grade science teachers taught me that leaders can have fun. You don’t need to be strict, always commanding your followers about what to do. Sometimes the most loved leaders are the ones who relax, the ones who aren’t afraid of having a good time. You can’t and shouldn’t push yourself every second. Don’t force yourself upon the position.

One of my eighth-grade teachers stepped back and propelled me forward, proving that a leader is also a coach. While a leader scopes out the trail, they don’t necessarily need to be the first to walk through it or first to get to the finish line. A leader knows that following behind the group and guiding those who wander astray is equally as important as leading the whole group.

My ninth-grade English teacher has taught me that each leader follows someone else. Every leader out there looks up to another person, taking some of their decisions, characteristics, and advice, and applying it to themselves. Natural leaders don’t exist - everyone starts in the same place, picking and choosing their life, becoming the leader they are now.

And my whole school experience - nine schools, dozens of teachers - has taught me that not all leaders are the same. We all have our own beliefs, ideas, and ways to lead. There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ in the realm of leadership. You don’t need to live up to a certain expectation because everyone has their own expectations. And it’s okay if those aren’t yours.

So while a leader pushes themself ahead of the pack, they know someone else pushed them. While they step out of their comfort zone, they aren’t afraid to step back, know it’s hard, and make mistakes. A leader knows to listen to their group - everyone in the group, equally. A leader knows that not all leaders are the same. A leader doesn’t just lead, but also follows and guides. And every leader is unique, each owing who they are to the influence of others and the life they’ve led.


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