In July of 2018, three days before our last Zimbabwean elections, I wrote an article entitled “Are You A Leader, Or Are You Just Taking A Walk?” which spoke to what it takes to get people to follow you through a journey towards a destination – be that at home or at work, on a new project or to a new destiny. Often, passionate leaders who’ve dwelled on their dream for a long while take off in the direction of that dream without making sure they’ve instilled the same vision and energy in the people they’d like to come along with them, and without looking back to make sure that those people are following.
Leadership intimates that, in order to be a leader, you must have followers; and that communication is a large component of the success of any leadership.
However, I’m also an advocate for the theory that you don’t have to lead from the front or the top. That anyone can lead from any position by virtue of choice – the choice to be a leader. Some leaders lead from the front, standing as a larger-than-life beacon to those they inspire. Other leaders act quietly from within a team, and some even do so alone. In this regard, leadership is a stance and a personal choice that doesn’t necessarily require followers.
One thing leadership does require though, is that you first lead yourself.
Before you can lead others, you must choose to embody the traits, characteristics and ideals of a leader. You must practise the skill set necessary to lead yourself, as the strength and truth that inspires others radiates from self-leadership first – no matter your position.
As we stand on the brink of a new year having overcome much, I’d like to challenge you to give thought to what self-leadership looks like for you. Two important aspects of self-leadership that turns into leadership of others are the self-belief that you have something unique to offer the world, and the self-confidence to do so. Neither of these are easily surmounted for many people, and even those who manage them doubt themselves more often than you know.
Firstly, I personally have no doubt in my mind that you have something unique to contribute. It’s how we’re built as humans. It is our gifting. Every single one of us is built with a unique character, a unique life experience, and a unique set of strengths and perspectives. There is definitively no one else like you on the planet, meaning there is something unique that you can offer in a way that no one else can. Whether or not you have considered that, or put any stock in it, is another question. I encourage you to do so, lest your gifts and contributions go unpacked over time when others would have benefited greatly from your sharing.
Secondly, if you have an inkling about what you wish to contribute, the next step is the self-belief to do so. The self-belief that what you are is of consequence, and that what you aspire to is possible.
We are sitting in a very strange period of time where prolonged and ongoing change has sapped our energy and our confidence in what is achievable. In many ways, the world seems to have given up on aspiring to anything greater – or certainly anything greater that has the intention of elevating the collective rather than the individual. In this environment, it can be hard to summon the mental fortitude to believe in something better – let alone that you yourself could be instrumental in achieving it.
Before we pause for the December break (You ARE going to pause, aren’t you? Before another year runs away with you?), I’d like to remind you of the Roger Bannister Effect.
In 1954, Roger Bannister ran a mile in 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds, making it the first sub-4-minute mile ever recorded. In the history of running – and people had been running for a long time – no one had ever run a mile in under 4 minutes. They said it couldn’t be done.
Now, the first official Olympics were held in 1896, and even if we only look at man’s effort from then forward, it took 58 years for men focused on breaking records to break that one. That specific record had been quantified on the books for 9 years before Bannister broke it. Do you know how long it took for someone to do it again? 46 days.
The year after that, 3 more champions joined the sub-4-minute mile ranks, and within 2.5 years, there were 10 of them. The current record stands at 3:43.13 minutes. Not bad for something they said couldn’t be done.
What is now known as the Roger Bannister Effect refers to the psychological barrier that prevents us from achieving something that seems fantastical simply because no one else around us is doing it. It stands for the many things we tell ourselves aren’t possible because they seem out of reach, or we ourselves don’t seem “big enough” to achieve them. It tells us that our mental models are what allow us not only to do our best, but to do something that only we can do.
Before we go hurtling into a new year – although perhaps it is the world that seems to hurtle rather than us these days – I’d like to challenge you to take a moment to consider your self-belief and your contribution. I’d like to challenge you to reconsider what it is you bring to the table – because I guarantee there is something unique that only you can bring. And I’d like to challenge you to reconsider what you believe is possible; to reconsider what it looks like to lead yourself, and to reconsider what psychological barriers stand between you and achieving the things “they” say can’t be done.
BE the invitation to something different.
by Christen Killick
December 13th, 2021