Two weeks ago, I taught a leadership class at Navy Swim Camp. We played a game called Walking Leadership Bingo, which involved answering a series of questions on leadership with fellow campers. I was playing the game too, but as usual, no one was approaching me. I kept seeking out reluctant partner after reluctant partner until finally, one young woman introduced herself and posed a question from the game: “What type of leader are you?” I quickly answered but was shocked by her response to the same question. I asked, “What type of leader are you?”

“I’m not really a leader,” she responded. Cue the sound of crickets. I was stunned.

After a few moments of silence, I began firing a series of questions: “Who approached whom to start this conversation?”, “Who introduced themselves first?” and “Who posed the first question?” She failed to respond.  

Did she think I was wrong? Did a lightbulb go on in her head? Was she staring at something in my teeth and not listening at all? I will never know, but I have a strong feeling that this was the start of her leadership journey. You see, everyone is a leader, and this young woman was no exception. She was doing something that none of her peers were doing—intentionally talking to me, the assigned leader. She was not allowing our differences in age, knowledge, or assigned roles to intimidate her. She was being an assertive leader, and that passive follower she was claiming to be is as mythical a creature as the monster under your bed.

What type of leader are you? Think about it for a second. How do you make decisions? Do you decide by considering the facts, by thinking about how it will affect your teammates, or by taking into account the overall vision/goal of the group? This is something we will discuss during the LEAD Summit in August.

The key to a functional group is for everyone to recognize that we can all be leaders at the same time. It is our goals, motivations, decision making skills, and roles that differ. Some are leaders in charge of a group (appointed consciously or unconsciously), and others are leaders of self, in charge of supporting the appointed leader. The leader of the group is the stereotypical leader we often think of, but it is the leader of self that is a mystery to most.  

When you are a leader of self, you are a professional question-asker. You ask questions when you don’t believe in how the leader of group is doing things, or when you don’t see other teammates leading themselves properly. It is your job to advocate and lead yourself to support the group, to lead others to support the group, and to keep the leader of group honest and on the right track. Ask questions when you don’t agree with how things are getting done, and if after asking all these questions of others, you still don’t agree with how things are getting done, ask yourself these three questions:  

  1. Can I change this?
  2. Can I get on board?
  3. Do I need to join a different group?  

If you are not doing these things, you are leading yourself and the group astray.

I want to leave you with these two quotes:

“If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complacency.”  - Albert Einstein

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Don’t be complacent with improper leadership, and don’t betray your group by attempting to do nothing. You are a leader whether you like it or not, but you do get to choose the quality of your leadership.

Choose to be a positive leader with full buy-in to your program, coaches, and teammates. Choose to take on an active role in your leadership.