The Importance Of Why
Everyday Leaders know their “why.” They don’t want power for power’s sake. They are motivated by a belief or purpose that feels personal but is also bigger than they are. Everyday leaders’ “why” drives them, creates a sense of urgency and lights them up.Characteristics of Everyday Leaders
My early academic life had more than its fair share of twists and turns. In kindergarten, I was bused across the city to Chinatown as part of San Franciscos’s court-mandated school integration efforts. On my first day of fourth grade, I joined my fourth different elementary school community. I attended urban, suburban and rural public schools, and ultimately a private high school. Through ever-changing landscapes and deep traumas, school was often a stabilizing influence in my life. In fact, I longed to be in school, where expectations were clear and I felt some semblance of control. My teachers taught me so much more than reading and math. They taught me to ask questions. They taught me to take risks. They taught me that my ideas mattered.
During college, I enrolled in classes at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to learn the history of education and principles underlying its purpose and design. I was sad but not surprised to learn that, similar to many other institutions in our country, its history is one of separation and exclusion, gradual and reluctant change, and systemic barriers to equity and achievement. I studied the ethnography of schools and discovered the ways schools are often designed to reinforce privilege and social order.
At the same time, I discovered visionary teachers and leaders throughout our history who would become my enduring heroes: Frederick Douglass, Mary McLeod Bethune, John Dewey, Ted Sizer just to name a few. They believed in the potential of each young person. They believed that schools should be inclusive and responsive to students’ needs. They had creative approaches to teaching and learning that put students at the center. They recognized the incredible force that education can be for personal and social change.
Within this fundamental and ironic dichotomy about the history and purpose of schools, I found my own purpose and my why. For over twenty-five years, I have been a teacher and leader. To me, leadership is simply a fancy word to describe what teachers do everyday. Like teaching, leadership is about prioritizing and working toward our collective future, not simply one’s own.
Like teaching, leadership is about prioritizing and working toward our collective future, not simply one’s own.
It’s about intentionally and skillfully creating the conditions and mindsets that enable others to flourish. It’s about embodying values such as kindness, generosity, and curiosity in each interaction. It’s about embracing and fostering anti-racist beliefs and actions.
Everyone has a why – the thing that drives us and makes us feel most fully engaged and powerful. Do you know yours?
Finding one’s why and embracing it are not always easy. Sometimes we stubbornly hold on to self-perceptions that limit our ability to see our potential. Sometimes we fear the responsibility that comes with acknowledging our power. Sometimes, we just feel ordinary. But, here’s the thing: We all have something unique to give. It can be big or small, central to our lives or a small part. Either way, your why matters. We need you. And, that’s exactly why I founded Everyday Leadership.
Together, let’s find our why, release our inner wonder women, and create the world we know is possible.