Leading from where you are: the misconception about leadership

This image was taken during a 2014 an Axialent/Equus retreat at Bishop’s Lodge, in Santa Fe, NM. The horses in this photograph depict a herd of four horses. The white horse is Artemis, named after the Greek goddess of the hunt, forests and hills, the moon and archery.

As you can see, the third horse’s ears are turned towards Artemis, to listen for any guidance or direction. Artemis, a mare, is the leader of this herd. In horse herds, the leader leads from behind, putting often a single horse, or in this case multiple horses in front of her. This might seem counterintuitive to the general beliefs about leadership. We often associate a leader or leadership with a position of power or authority, the one that is in front. However, by observing this herd, could it be possible we can lead from anywhere?

According to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary, leadership is defined as 1, a position as a leader of a group, organization etc. 2, the time when the person holds the position of leader 3, the power or ability to lead other people. The first two definitions refer to positional power or authority, however in the third description, it does not, it speaks of the ability to lead.

Is this ability to lead, what Artemis is displaying in the herd? She is not using positional power (being in front), but empowers the horses to lead, and provides guidance from where she is, through communication and direction. The horses in front are going where they think they need to go, and Artemis empowers them to do so, but they will check in with her by turning their ears if there is a need for a change in direction. 

I believe the ability to lead comes from a place of influence, empowering and support others in their decisions, and by providing knowledge and guidance. Leadership can be as small as setting an example for others, or as big as leading an organization to success. In the past, leadership was often observed as a command and control behavior but leadership has evolved. Those command and control leaders are becoming less and less successful. Leadership that shows inspiration, hope, support, empowerment etc. are the traits that people are drawn to.

Everyone can be a leader from where they are, regardless of their role in an organization. Leading is taking responsibility for your actions, raising concerns and being an example to others. 

Let’s use the example of Rosa Parks. She was a bus passenger on a segregated bus in Montgomery, AL. Parks refused to give up her seat in the colored section to a white passenger. In a 1992 interview “Parks recalls boycott” excerpt interview with Lynn Neary on National Public Radio, Parks said “I did not want to be mistreated; I did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for. It was just time… There was an opportunity for me to take a stand to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner. I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn’t hesitate to do so because I felt I had endured that too long. The more we gave in, the more we complied with that kind of treatment, the more oppressive it became.” Her act of defiance became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. 

Parks was in no place of positional power, or any power at that time in our history, but she chose to speak up for what she believed was right, showing strength and leadership in that process. Artemis and Parks are reminding us that leadership goes beyond a position of power, but that everyone can lead from where they are.

Are you leading from where you are?

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