If I asked a room full of strangers “How many of you are leaders?” most would keep their hands down. Of course, there would probably be a couple folks in the room that have no shame being called a leader–either because of a title they’ve inherited (or created for themselves), or because their momma told them all their life that they were the shiniest star in the sky that would lead humanity out of the darkness.
Let me talk to the unraised hands in the room for a second.
Now, what if I asked you to just nod your head, right where you are, if you are a leader? It’s ok, no one is looking:
JUST KIDDING! I, for one, know the discomfort of accepting that in certain circumstances, I am leading. I actually shy away from titles that blatently scream “BOSS.” Even for my own business, instead of “President” or “CEO,” I call myself “Chief Problem Solver.” So I get it. Leadership implies being at the forefront, and that’s not easy for everyone. But here’s why I am bugging you today.
We Need More ProActive Leaders.
We need more people who are not necessarily comfortable with leadership, but recognize that a mission needs to get done.
We need more people to take their brilliant analysis on issues of the world off of Facebook and into larger platforms.
We need more people to fail (yes, fail) while leading so that our peers, our community, our youth can feel like they, too, can lead.
Three examples as of late have been convicting me on my journey, and I realize, that there are some real lessons for accidental leaders:
When I saw the title of the article, Yes, Maya Angelou Was A Sex Worker, I was shocked! It was not a secret to me–nor something I judged her for. But I was wondering how were others going to take it.
But one had to read the article.
The article included insight from Dr. Maya Angelou that I am going to marinate on periodically throughout my life:
“I wrote about my experiences because I thought too many people tell young folks, “I never did anything wrong. Who, Moi? – never I. I have no skeletons in my closet. In fact, I have no closet.” They lie like that and then young people find themselves in situations and they think, “Damn I must be a pretty bad guy. My mom or dad never did anything wrong.” They can’t forgive themselves and go on with their lives. So I wrote the book Gather Together in My Name”
ACCIDENTAL LEADER RULE #1: All of your experiences can be used to uplift, motivate, and connect with others. Sure there will be those that just see the “shock” of your life and focus on some of your actions. But your life is also being viewed by people who need a story to relate to, to let them know “I, too, am ok. I, too, can change. I, too, can lead.” I often have to remind myself that my past does not define me. That does not mean there aren’t those who know a different side of my former reality. But greater are those that need you, than those that condemn you. You have the power to be more than one situation in your life, and even the parts that seem dark to some, will bring light to others.
“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.“
ACCIDENTAL LEADER RULE #2: A leader of change does the opposite of a leader of self. Mandela’s life was one many so called “leaders” could never handle. And the reason is he gave up comfort for purpose. The man many celebrate for his voice and speeches, was also the man who was not seen and could have died for standing up for liberation: imprisoned for a 1/3 of his life.
I get asked to speak at quite a few events, but I am not that comfortable with public speaking. I also don’t always say yes either–I have to know what the purpose is and what I can add to the conversation. Before I speak on a panel, or moderate, or give a speech, I always pray and ask myself why was I asked to do this? The answer is not that the people want to see my face; many other folks more eloquent than me could also have been asked to present. I am merely a tool, a vessel, to deliver whatever substantive information is needed for that particular audience. But I also recognize that how I deliver is also not of me, but of the vision of my Creator, who crafted everything from my flow to my breath to my voicebox. And of course, my passion to see real change in people’s lives in this lifetime.
Keeping mission is key. “Wins” are always a time to both celebrate and reflect on the fact that you could not have won alone. And when it is time to fight for that cause you are passionate about, a leader doesn’t ask permission to do what’s right. You don’t have to be comfortable to lead, you just have to be open to being led.
3) The Disciple Peter
Matthew 26:31-35 is one of my favorite lessons of accidental leadership. In this passage, shortly before Jesus is taken away to later be crucified, Jesus tells his crew (urban bible translation) “Yo, on this night, yall negroes ain’t loyal” (I had to do it, I just HAD TO…darn you Chris Brown). Peter, pissed at the accusation, was the FIRST to say something: “Naw, son, you got me confused. All them hittas may leave you, but ME? I’m loyal. I ain’t going no where.”
Enter the Jesus CheckPoint (these hurt yo).
Jesus looked right in his eyeball (in my mind), and said “My dude, trust and believe that on this eve, you will say “I don’t know that Jesus” three times.” And that’s what happened. Fast-forward, Peter was distraught. Fast-forward, Peter got depressed and went in hiding for a bit.
ACCIDENTAL LEADER RULE #3: Everything about your leadership won’t always line up, and you will do some suspect, contradictory behavior. I’mma tell you why this hit Peter so hard. Jesus had already told Peter that he was to be the “rock” upon which the church was to be built on (see Matthew 16:18). So, to Peter, when told of his future denial of his mentor, he must have ffelt like how can I be the founder of something so great and also the cause of so much destruction–the ultimate betrayal? Anyone who knows me knows that I connect the most with Peter for his humanity. He is not a clean plate, and neither am I. I have had visions and dreams poured into my heart, that were then crushed by my own acts of disobedience, naivete and pride. But here is the thing I have lived: no ill action done to you–even if self-inflicted–will separate you from the destiny and outcome God has for you. The key thing to note is that Peter did not make himself a leader–God did! God already ordained Peter to be the rock, even though God KNEW He was appointing a future liar. The same is true of you and I.
You may lie. But you are a leader. You may cheat. But you are a leader. You may act out of character one day, and it may lead you into a state of depression, like it did Peter. Sometimes being selfish and self-absorbed is not just about material things, but it can also occur when we wallow in our misery for too long. But if it is hard to accept Rule #3, remember accidental rules #1 & #2: You’re past does not define you. And your mission is greater than you.
Some of our greatest inventions and moments in life were created by accidents like you and me.