Last week I shared with the Gateway Public Schools community that next school year will be my last as executive director. For the past twenty-two years, Gateway has been my home, my family and my proudest endeavor. However, I realize that it is time for me to shift priorities in order to spend more time with those I love and open up space for possibility.
This morning, I woke up wondering “Who am I if I’m not Sharon Olken, executive director and member of the Gateway community?”
I am a daughter, a wife, a parent, a friend, a teacher, a leader, a person deeply committed to kindness, joy, and social change. I recognize the innate and unique power within each person. I believe that most problems can be solved. I know that listening for possibility and connection is where the magic happens.
When I started writing Everyday Leadership, I declared that true leadership isn’t about a fancy title or position of formal authority. Instead, it’s about how we live our lives each day, the way we treat each other, and the way we embody what we hold dear and support others to do the same.
So now this is my test. It’s time for me to double down on everyday leadership.
What is an everyday leader? A reminder for me and you –
Everyday leaders understand that power comes from within. Being a leader does not depend on a fancy title or job description. Within each of us, there is a personal, unique and beautiful source of power. Everyday leaders recognize, cultivate and exercise this power. They know that they can make a difference by being themselves, caring for others, and stepping up.
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.
Everyday leaders believe in the value of each person. Some people think leadership is about exerting control over others or getting people to follow along. Everyday leaders know that leadership is about creating the conditions in which each individual can thrive and fully contribute. They make others feel seen, understood and valued.
Everyday leaders build bridges. They intentionally seek areas of common values and goals, rather than focusing on what divides us. They don’t point fingers or place blame. Instead, they bring people together and encourage collaboration, teamwork, and shared learning.
Everyday leaders are part of the solution. They are optimists. They believe in a better future and look for ways – big or small – to help move us in the right direction. When confronted with a problem or dilemma, they roll up their sleeves, figure out what can be done, who needs to be included, and how they can make things a little better than they were before.
Everyday leaders seek multiple perspectives. They recognize the limits of their own viewpoints and know that good thinking and real change require the ideas, input, and experience of many. As part of their process, they ask themselves, “Who haven’t we heard from?” and they are committed to elevating diverse voices.
Everyday leaders ask a lot of questions. They want to get to the heart of things. Rather than assuming or pretending they understand, everyday leaders are quick to admit how much they have to learn. They do not suggest they have all the answers; instead, everyday leaders use questions to help people discover answers together.
Everyday leaders treat people well. They know that how we treat others – each and every person – is at the heart of leadership. They treat others with respect, compassion, curiosity, and generosity, and in doing so, they embody positive leadership in each interaction.
Everyday leaders practice vulnerability and courage. They share their own stories and they speak up, even when it is hard or unpopular. They admit their mistakes and fears and point out what needs to change. They know their voice has power, and they have the courage to use it.
Everyday leaders remember to play and recharge. They understand that their work is important, and they also recognize that balance and joy are essential. They know what makes them happy and they prioritize it. They laugh, sing, dance, hike, kick soccer balls, paint, connect with others, meditate, sleep and so much more…