Like many teenagers of my generation, I have always been told the value of leadership. The education I have received often stresses that only leaders can make it far in the world. It seemed to me that the ways I was evaluated growing up aligned with this consensus – when applying for university, for instance, students who hold leadership positions, such as the founder of clubs, captains of sports teams, Presidents of student councils, and executives of school newspapers, are in much more competitive positions than those who do not. So, in high school, I, like many other ambitious teenagers my age, worked relentlessly until I occupied a spot on the executive team of multiple clubs, carefully counting the number of impressive titles I could stack up on my application form.
To say that gaining leadership experience brings no rewards would be a lie. I was able to enjoy many of these club activities that I took part in. I also learned a lot through organizing events and managed to interact with many different individuals as an executive. However, what these leadership experiences failed to teach me and many of my peers was how not to be a leader. The fear of failing to gain leadership roles, which is often equated to the key element of succeeding, constantly haunts us. This pushes us to always fight for the most glamorous titles without knowing when to take a step back. From group projects to debates, from bake sales to editing drafts for the school newspaper, we all feel the constant need to be in charge of every tiny little activity. We struggle to reconcile with the fact that we cannot all be the one who makes the final decision and find it challenging to support each other. In the end, a group of people with uncompromising ambitions end up working separately, each nursing a bruised ego.
The problem is not that leaders are not important. They are, in fact, very important to society. Having a leader gives people a representative, a voice, and a chance to be heard in front of authorities. A leader also enforces unity and order, which grants people peace. It is crucial to implant in young minds that having a sense of responsibility and ego is how large advancements have always been made in history. However, we have not stressed enough the importance of being ‘merely’ a supportive team member. Telling youngsters to be ambitious before they have learned how to be humble and respectful is dangerous; society will end up having too many self-claimed conductors who refuse to let go of the baton but too few musicians to play the actual piece.
Furthermore, it is important to emphasize other ways of being a valuable contributor. Being a leader is contributing, but so is being punctual, kind, and understanding without having an executive title. Understating the significance of learning to play a modest and ordinary part would create a false sense of purpose. Youngsters would end up chasing after the benefits that accompany glorious titles without proper appreciation of hard work and other important qualities. In the end, leaders would deem their followers unsuccessful, or at least not as successful as themselves, for the only way to strive in their mindset is to take charge.
It took me two years to realize how ignorant a leader I was, having grown up accustomed to fighting for these positions; it may have taken others just as long, if not more, to figure this out. We need this to change. We need leaders whose self-worth can be justified without their titles, whose successes are not measured by the number of titles they occupy, but their compassion, vigor, and kindness. Let us start by saying it is OK to play an ordinary role.