When Do We Learn Leadership?

Is leadership learned or natural?  If it is learned, where do we learn it? At home? On the playground? At the dinner table? In the womb?

I have the privilege of serving in a volunteer job working with kids and horses.  It’s a grief group for kids who just lost a family member and the program uses horses to help them heal.  It truly is an amazing process.  We do art, talk about our families, and play with horses.  Watching and listening to the kids interact with each other and the horses is healing for me as well.

In one of the group sessions, we were talking about feelings around grief.  We started with the definitions of words like confusion, sympathy and anxiety.  Kids ages 6-10 are a lot smarter than I realize.  The facilitator asked a question and invited response. “Who’s knows the answer to that?”  Enthusiastic hands shot up into the air. Eyes look ed up at the raised hands and then slowly new hands went up.  Did they know the answer? Or were their hands up as a signal of wanting to be like the other kids?  Were they learning about leadership? Or followership?

I’ve known kids who are so smart that they have a hard time ‘fitting in’. They shrink their brilliance so that other kids will feel more comfortable around them.  I see kids who pretend to be smarter than they are, know more answers than they do, tell stories of feats they haven’t accomplished to fit in. And therein lies the irony. At the same time that some kids are hiding their genius to fit in, others are exaggerating brilliance for the same reason.

Back to the barn… I was honored to work with a young girl one night.  We’ll call her Katy.  Katy acted so bravely as she led a 1,000 pound horse around the arena. The horse clearly did not want to walk – he wanted to hang by the edge of the arena and eat grass.  Katy pulled the rope and said in a lovingly, yet firm way, “This is what we’re doing right now. Walk on.”  The horse followed.  This 8-year old clearly is a strong leader. Is that a learned attribute, or something wired into her genes?

Will she take that lesson back to school? The dorm room? The board room? It’s a skill I did not learn in the classroom – to articulate wishes without being forceful.  I’m so impressed with this 8 year old. And so honored to be working with the kids and the horses in this program.

Are we taught to be leaders or followers when we are kids?  Do schools teach us more leadership skills, or follower skills?  What do you think?

Aligned Performance

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