I remember one of the first times someone called me a leader.
I was the only freshman in the Alto II section of my choir class in high school. The other girls in my voice part were upperclassmen, and we worked together every day to learn the new songs for our choir concert.
There were several times over the course of the semester when we ran into problems learning our songs, and though I was intimidated by the older girls in my section, I tried to help teach the music so we would pass our part checks and sound amazing in the concert. Because I didn’t have the credibility of age or experience supporting me, I worried that no one would listen to me and my suggestions.
But at the end of the semester, after we passed our voice checks and had a successful concert, one of the seniors in my voice part recognized my dedication to our sound and thanked me for helping her.
“Olivia, you’ve been a great leader for our section,” she said.
I had never really seen myself as a leader before, and I didn’t quite understand how she could see me as a leader if I was in the same position as her. But that was exactly the point: I may not have been in a “high-up” position of authority, but I used my knowledge to help guide my group — an important aspect of leadership.
After this situation, I started to see leadership everywhere. But somewhere down the line, I forgot moments of leadership such as this one. After having the opportunity to serve in several positional leadership roles, I had convinced myself that having a position or title is required to be a leader.
This idea of what it means to be a leader is common among many people. But there are so many ways to be a leader — even without being in a leadership position — and we need to celebrate and respect that form of leadership in the same way we do positional leaders.
Equating being a leader with having a positional leadership role is dangerous because it implies that the only way you can be a leader is by being elected or hired for a position. This problem is especially present here at Elon University.
Leadership is one of Elon’s five Experiential Learning Requirements, and the pressure to be a leader is high. If you’re not on executive board of an organization, then your position in the organization seems to not matter.
This logic is flawed and does not reflect the many different theories and styles of leadership. Emergent leaders within organizations play a valuable role in their groups. These are the people working directly with other active participants to reach a common goal.
Nonpositional leaders are often motivated by their love for or dedication to the cause. They lead others in their group by example, inspiring others to work effectively through their infectious passion.
If you’re not the president or treasurer of an organization it does not mean you are not of value. It is more than OK to just be a part of a group. There is so much value in simply participating — that is the foundation of what makes an organization successful.
I was just as much of a leader in my freshman choir class as I am in leadership positions on campus. Leadership exists everywhere, not just in the titles on your resume, and we must remember this if we want to facilitate leadership development on campus.