If not me, who? If not now, when?
- Hillel the Elder
An unlikely leader is someone who can impact and influence, no matter their job title, age, or background. I was once an unlikely leader, and this is why I am so passionate about freeing our understanding around leadership. More than ever we need diverse voices, skills, world views, backgrounds and experiences contributing to the health of our organisations and institutions.
Some of the most incredible leaders I’ve ever met couldn’t read or write, relying on their thumbprint to sign their name. They faced harsh conditions, and huge obstacles. They were not anointed, but they lead.
Meet Kaya, a Bangladeshi woman not typically considered ‘leadership material.’ When I met her she was 18 – but she was married at 12 and had her first baby at 14. She’d never gone to school. Now it would be easy to write her off as a victim, but she had other ideas. She saw women being trained to lead and she wanted to be part of that. At 18, she ran a campaign to stop all other child marriages in her village. Now that’s leadership!
Kaya is not an anomaly. We all have the ability, as unlikely as we might be, to lead. In my experience unlikely leadership is a combination of the following:
- Believe in yourself that you have what it takes. Don’t wait to be asked, or for approval from the masses. That you are alive and want to make a difference is enough. Start from there.
- Cultivate a reason. It doesn’t have to be huge, but when you look at a leader you admire, they had a purpose and a reason. You need this because leading takes us out of our comfort zone. When you’re getting pushback and criticism, or you are confronted with just how indifferent the world is to you, your ‘why’ is your compass.
- Personal responsibility. Nothing happens without this. Personal responsibility is a choice. You choose to act. You choose to impact. You make the issue you are confronting your responsibility. You can watch me share more on personal responsibility in this short video.
When we reframe who is a leader, and open up the concept of unlikely leadership, we are able to unlock and unleash talent, innovation and potential across a whole organisation. It’s how culture changes and how movements are started.
We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.
- J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series