What is a leader?

How do you define leadership and does it matter for success?  The dictionary defines a leader as someone who guides and directs a group.  But can leadership really be summed up as merely guiding and directing?  If so, anyone who has the desire and basic skill set can be a boss, run a meeting, delegate to others.  I guess that makes them a leader.  But does it make them the great leaders we want to follow?

As an employee in corporate America, I’ve worked under numerous bosses but only a few true leaders. I also briefly worked for a non-profit with a community appointed board.  This board had the potential to be the most inspiring leaders in our community, but fell miserably short due to a just few members who were serving personal agendas rather than the stakeholders they had been entrusted to serve. A few bad apples really do spoil the bunch!  So, I can personally testify that there are leaders because they were merely handed the authority and then there are leaders who are born to encourage, develop, and inspire others.  It is that kind of leader in which I believe everyone yearns for in our communities.

Leaders improve their environment, maintain a positive attitude, and work passionately to develop other people and future leaders.  Leaders are positive, confident in themselves, and work tirelessly to motivate others.  It is this leadership that will define an organization’s success and translates in and through not only their employees, but the stakeholders (customers or the people they serve).  We typically think of leaders as the locally elected officials, small and large business owners, and non-profit organization’s boards and directors.  However, there is no better example of true inspirational leadership than in our public schools.  It is a leadership that permeates throughout the entire organization.  It begins with the Superintendent and School Board but is also found in the district’s administrators, teachers, aides, nurses, librarians, bus drivers, maintenance, custodians, students, and even parents.  Every individual who make up a public school district is a leader or a leader in training.  Yes, leadership matters because schools not only define the community via the past and present but they also define the future. 

After a recent visit to the Canton ISD School Board meeting, I witnessed leadership in action.  Of course, typical school business was conducted like approving meeting minutes, superintendent’s report, legislative update, and state/federal policy approvals.  Important stuff, but not anything to go home and write about…  So why write about it?  Because six junior high students inspired, motivated, and encouraged me to truly be a great leader.

On Monday, February 25, 2019, a group of well-prepared student leaders from Canton Junior High School presented, “How to Be a Leader”.  They defined leadership as an action but also claimed it is about being an example to others. With 52 students participating in their leadership programs, students reported leading by example and action.  Volunteer programs like Elementary Reading Buddies; Box Top Collection efforts raised 2,700 box tops; Soxtoberfest sock collection for nursing home residents seemed like a small gesture but made a big impact; collecting 2 tons of food for the Manna Food Drive fed Canton’s most needy; honoring 100 grandparents with breakfast on Grandparent’s Day displayed humility; and with generosity adopted 3 angel kids for Christmas.  Red Ribbon Week gave student leaders the chance to encourage their peers to live drug free and the Morning Greeters help set the tone every day with a smile and kind encouraging words.

Positive leadership is contagious. What occurred at the Canton ISD School Board meeting were student leaders inspiring the very people who taught them how to be great leaders – their parents, teachers, administrators, and board members.  Public education is not just about reading, writing, and math.  It’s about community!

Well done Canton ISD!  Go Eagles!

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