On Being a Leader

As recruiting season is upon us, I met with my career advisor on Wednesday to go over some interview questions. She asked me which types of questions I was especially nervous about getting asked. One of the types that came to mind right away was: the leadership questions.

See, I’ve never been a president of anything or managed a department of more than 1-2 people. I’ve never rallied a cause or started a group. To me, these are the “Leadership” activities with a capital L.

I’ve been identified as and always considered myself a small-l leader. A quiet leader, a de-facto leader, the type of person who other people naturally look up to because of the way I stay on top of things, set examples, and can usually find the way from point A to point B. I don’t know how to talk about this kind of leadership in an interview or on a resume.

But, my advisor said, what about the fact that you’re an Anderson Career Services Student Ambassador? That you presented to classes and helped us reach our largest class audience to date? You’re serving as someone other students are looking up to.

I thought about the career workshop I had attended the day before, and I realized that she was right. After she briefly introduced me as a Student Ambassador, the other students at my table looked to me for advice. When we stood up and practiced delivering our “30-second commercials” to each other, students looked for my feedback and followed my lead. It was just…happening.

And that’s when I realized that being a leader doesn’t mean being THE leader. And I also realized that this whole process I am in right now–the applying to graduate school, and selecting one, and accepting opportunities, and now applying for jobs–has been about choosing leadership roles, even when I wasn’t framing it under that word.

I chose the University of New Mexico, because it was a place I thought I could really make an impact by being a student. I applied to be a Student Ambassador because I wanted to elevate other students and help them find the tools to reach their potentials. I’m entering the accounting field because I believe it is a field where I can excel. I’m so passionate about it, that I’m not afraid to put myself out there or to put other parts of my life on hold to start this journey.

These motivations are exactly the types of things that turn a person into a leader. It’s not always a title or a promotion or an overnight thing. It’s not always quantifiable (though that looks great on a resume!). It’s a way of being, and it can arise naturally and take shape over time.

So I am a leader.

And I have the red shirt to prove it.