“I really want to be a leader,” a former college student of mine told me recently, her tone wistful. “I want to inspire others and I want to make a difference in the world around me.”
“I agree!” I said! “You are meant to be a leader – it’s a bit part of who you are, and I honestly don’t think you will be happy if you aren’t doing it! The world needs more leaders just like you!”
My former student grew quiet and hesitant. Suddenly, this strong, articulate woman – full of wisdom and conviction and heart, was blinking back tears. “They won’t let me,” she said. “I apply for those jobs and I don’t even get an interview. Honestly? It feels like those jobs go to men. or to people who know someone. Or people who have ‘done their time’ in the system.”
I sat for a minute, understanding the full weight of what she was saying.
I’ve been there.
Odds are good you’ve been there, too.
What do you do when you know you are created and called to lead, but you can’t seem to secure the title and position of a leader?
You lead anyway.
You might choose to lead in your existing position – even if your job description doesn’t include leadership responsibilities. You also might choose to lead on your own time, starting a side business where you are free to build the skills that you don’t feel fully free to build in your day job. In time, you may consider ways to make that side hustle your full-time job.
Maybe your leadership muscle can be strengthened through a community service project. Perhaps it’s your church that needs you to step up and be a leader – speaking your truth, sharing valuable information, inspiring, and coordinating the efforts of others.
We all have a sphere of influence – friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, students, children, and others who look to us for guidance and leadership. If we want to lead, we start by leading within our sphere of influence, each and every day.
Within our sphere of influence, we don’t ask for permission to lead. We already have been given that authority by nature of our relationships. And isn’t that what leadership is really about, anyway? Relationships?
If you are interested in leadership but are frustrated with being told “no” by gatekeepers of certain positions, I encourage you to think about who you influence. Who looks to you for advice and direction? Who do you find that you are informally called upon to teach and help to grow? This is your opportunity at leadership – take it!
If you want the formal leadership positions, please keep fighting for them. But in the meantime, don’t let gatekeepers prevent you from leading – do it right where you are, every day.
Don’t wait for permission – seize the opportunity – either in your work day or on your own time. You won’t regret it!