Some people are ‘born to lead’. They grow up with innate skills and have a natural capacity that tends to be acknowledged and nurtured by parents, teachers, mentors, or a combination of folks. Individuals that are born to lead never have people asking them to take charge, because without pausing to think about it; they just do. People who fit this category of leadership make commitments, create lists, successfully delegate, and accomplish tasks with a great deal of success. These are our movers and shakers; they make great bosses and colleagues because we can depend on them to get things done.
Other leaders are made, not born. These are individuals that are deeply in touch with their ‘why’. They know their ‘why’ because they’ve taken the time to explore their identity; thus they know the good, the bad, and the ugly about their own strengths and weaknesses. The values that uphold their strengths are well recognized, as are the underlying reasons behind areas they haven’t been able to improve. These are the leaders that spread their organization’s purpose every day. They establish direction and align people, bringing with them a sense of cohesion and vision.
I am a leader who spends a great deal of time in reflection. I know I am the leader who has been made, not born; and sometimes I don’t even know how I came to be the person I am today.
I didn’t come from a family of leaders. My Dad was a diesel mechanic, my mom was an early childhood teacher, and I had two sisters that were secretaries. I didn’t know any female leaders as I was growing up, and in fact, don’t recall what inspired me to pursue a graduate degree in leadership. My parents didn’t articulate expectations for my “success” in life, however they did communicate a desire for me to be self-sufficient. That is, in a matter of words and actions, they communicated to me that financial responsibility and independence was important, and I should choose a job that would afford me the opportunity to ‘get by’ without their assistance.
For all intents and purposes, I shouldn’t be an executive leader in charge of a school district with a $60 million dollar yearly budget. After all, I was a mediocre student in a class of K-12 students largely remembered for our apathy. As a group we failed to perform, and as an individual, I was not much different. I struggled with reading. My writing was superficial. I didn’t do homework, and I was able to pass algebra by the skin of my teeth – both times with Ds. Yet I graduated in the top 10% of my class!?!
My undergraduate experience was difficult. Unprepared and under confident, self-discipline was a challenge. ASU was enormous, and I was overwhelmed by it all. I knew I wanted to complete my degree, as I had lived vicariously through a series of horrific events my sister had experienced as she navigated the streets of divorce and poverty with her three children. I bore witness as she became sullen and disenfranchised. And then I kept vigil as her life spiraled in and out of normalcy. I believed the only infallible way to ensure my life would turn out differently was to earn a little piece of paper signifying my ticket out.
In my own life experiences and through the experiences of my family, I’ve come to know the perils of poverty, addiction, crime, loss, oppression, and a sense of helplessness. I’ve experienced how our system can stack the deck against folks who are already struggling to get by, making it nearly impossible to ever escape the conditions that confine and shatter them. I’ve made it my life’s work to help open doors, windows, and other crevices of hope for those burdened by the failures of systemic injustice. I came to realize over time that I could be an agent of change; that I had capacity and untapped potential to make a difference for those who feel disenfranchised.
So I strengthened my skill-set. I surrounded myself with bright individuals; and learned from and with some of the most incredible leading experts on educational equity, social justice, inclusive practice, and intersectionality in our nation. I immersed myself in experiences that were uncomfortable and embraced opportunities to push my thinking in ways I had never considered. I became deeply reflective, and learned to take a more critical perspective on research and practice. Ultimately, I learned I have a responsibility to identify and dismantle the systemic barriers to equity present within our educational system.
I wasn’t born to lead. I am a leader that was ‘made’; although I believe a more fitting word to describe the leader that I am is ‘inspired’. Yes, I have been inspired to lead. Inspired by exposure to some of life’s hardest circumstances, and the opportunity to make a difference for others. Inspired by experiences that have had profound impact on my perspectives and insights. Inspired by access to incredible individuals that have influenced and encouraged me to be the change.