By Ian Flueck
We live in an age of big leadership. Politicians dominate international discourse, CEOs direct millions of employees, and social figureheads lead massive audiences on critical issues. Consider the popularity of superhero movies with characters whose larger-than-life abilities allow them to step into the spotlight and save humanity. These characters embody the traits of big leadership. Our leadership styles have also been influenced by social media with the rise of a new type of leader, the influencer. Views, likes, shares, and comments calculate the social and cultural power that these leaders have in our lives.
Faced with countless examples of big leadership, we may forget what it means to be a leader. I define a leader as someone who shares their vision for the future with a group of people and inspires action toward achieving their goals. There is no required number of followers to be a leader. The idea that leadership effectiveness relies on the size of your following encourages individuals to change the way they act to seem stronger, bolder, and smarter.
For example, I have participated in leadership training events where everyone is highly engaged and committed to proving how loud their voice is, how strong their ideas are, and how well they work with others. Yet, when the training ends, this energy fades and people forget that true leaders never stop leading. In fact, leadership is just as important when there is no spotlight, no podium, and no audience. The leaders that I respect are consistent in their actions, thoughtful with their words, and inspiring with their ideas.
I hope this post reminds you of the importance of small acts of leadership.
Much like small acts of kindness, small acts of leadership prompt individuals to just do the small things right. It is easy to hold the door open behind you, smile at a stranger, or compliment a friend, and these small acts all have a significant impact on the people around you. Leadership functions in the same way. Simple changes in the way you lead can provide exponential benefits to the people around you. The T&M program itself is evidence that creating a cohort of motivated and successful students fosters more motivation and more success.
One small act of leadership is leading by example. The first student who contributes to a discussion-based class encourages their peers to participate. The RSO board member who does not work on their laptop during a meeting encourages other board members to stay engaged. And the team member who challenges a proposed idea communicates the importance of creativity and iterative design in the team’s work. Unfortunately, people can also lead by example in negative ways. Be conscious of your actions and the impact that they have on the people around you.
I believe that small acts of leadership are more important now than ever. Many of us are isolated from the communities we thrive in, adapting to smaller spheres of interaction. I think it is the perfect time to reflect and find small ways that you can continue to lead. We don’t necessarily need more big leaders, big personalities, or big voices. We need individuals who are ready to lead by example, help those close to them, and, most importantly, promote hope and perseverance.
It’s as easy as holding the door open.
Ian is currently in T&M Class XXVI and is a sophomore in Materials Science and Engineering