My understand is that when you see a flock of birds, the ones at the front don’t spend the entire trip leading. The birds take turns to conserve energy. The other thing I found most interesting about bird flocks, is that there are actually diverge leadership groups at different times trying to steer the flock elsewhere and some will indeed do that.
The funny thing is, the birds behind start to realize that the more of them that follow one, the easier the travel gets as they can draft behind the others in the flock and conserve energy. They take turns doing this and it makes the trip across long distances possible.
I think a lot about leadership and for a long time, I thought if you’re passionate, work hard and care about other people that folks would naturally see what you’re bringing to the table and want to support you towards your goals. This somewhat mistaken belief was borne out of years and years of supportive people identifying me as someone they thought should lead. I’m talking all the way back to grade school, where I’ve had teachers and peers who have mentored me, lifted me up and told me I was worth a damn when I didn’t always feel like it. For all of my penchant for leading, speaking up and sharing what I know; I’ve spent most of my life trying to recede to the back. But time and time again, people have refused to let me not shine my light.
For this I am beyond grateful.
My professional life has been marked by people who have pulled me aside or put me in leadership roles consistently. From the boss at the software store in high school who made me his 3rd in command a month after I was hired to my first boss in higher ed who decided that she had enough faith in my abilities to let me lead a redesign project & committee that was comprised of all VPs and our President and felt comfortable enough not to attend those meetings because she knew it was in good hands.
These kinds of experiences I have shaped how I’ve seen myself as I moved up the ranks, assumed more responsibility and accept greater challenges. Even when things don’t work out, I’ve come away with a much better understanding of what my role is. But more than anything, I’ve come to understand that not everyone is going to have your best interest at heart. Not everyone is meant to be a mentor, not every person who comes into contact with you is concerned about your professional growth or wants to see you succeed on mutually acceptable terms. The trick here is if you’re not fortunate like I’ve been to have great people support, encourage and bolster me and find yourself in an unsupportive professional environment is realizing that you have a responsibility to accept change and to make it work for you.
I don’t mean making the job work for you because not every situation is salvageable in that way. But if you’ve reached a point where you consider yourself a competent individual with some value to offer, then you need to figure out ways to demonstrate that. People will notice. Even if they don’t, you can’t let one situation define you. Your work, your actions and your strength of character will define you over a period of time. It might takes years and you might find yourself searching far and wide, but eventually you’ll find your flock.
But you need to get off the ground.