May 06, 2019

pov: What Does it Mean to be a Leader?

Leadership has different meanings to different people. We should expect this, especially given all our varied exposures to styles, people, and experiences. When I talk about leadership, I often tell people that I have experienced both good leaders and bad leaders. I do this because I am thinking about the people that I have worked for and followed and also the people that I have seen and met in our community throughout the years. While it’s true that I spent two years during my graduate program examining and discussing leadership theory and that those books and knowledge are still with me, I hardly pull from leadership theory when I am processing what I see, hear, and do in regard to leadership. Instead I am actively pulling from those lived experiences of my best examples of leadership and my worst memories. This isn’t to say that I am perfect, I in fact, mess up a lot. I try to be equitable and fair in my leadership, but I also know that I bring with me a whole host of ideas, thoughts, biases, expectations, etc. that make me human and susceptible to mistakes. I share this because it is authentically me. And I call your attention to it perhaps to help ease your own fears and anxieties about leadership and your own capabilities around being a good leader.  

I have learned over the years that leadership doesn’t come with title or position. Leadership comes out of a place each of us have where we feel a passion to speak up, a drive to participate, and a willingness to be part of something larger than ourselves. Circa 1997 I was a junior in high school and I wrote an opinion piece in the newspaper. After it was published, I received hate mail calling me the devil and telling me I didn’t deserve to live. That day I didn’t wake up and say, “I’m going to be a leader”. Instead, with tears rolling down my face I called every Rubalcava in the phone book, essentially all my Tias, Tios, and my grandparents and apologized to them, because they too received hateful mail meant for me. On that day I learned from them that compassion was a form a leadership. I also learned through that experience and many others that it was incumbent on me to be a leader that is honest, authentic, open, confident, and firm.  

I share this because I believe that each of us the ability to look deep within ourselves and think about those leadership experiences we’ve been privy to. We can reflect on how they made us feel, how they inspired us to change and even how they reminded us of how we never wanted to be. And it’s in that sweet spot that we create and inspire the leaders who will come after us. I wasn’t always a CEO, I wasn’t always an advocate for my community, I also was once a teenager who had been threatened.  

We are all leaders and we choose how our leadership abilities manifest themselves in each of us. Now is the time to be the leader you want others to see and possibly be.