For the first time in my existence, I boarded a plane for New York City. I was headed for Student Voice Live! 2014, a convening of education stakeholders from all across the United States.
As I was struggling to stay awake during the board meeting, one of my colleagues shared about how the work that Student Voice does should be actionable and foster tangible change.
I hesitantly wholeheartedly agree with that statement. Hesitant because I know that making a tangible dent in the face of global education is not only a daunting task, but an extremely difficult one. The education system is one of the largest systems in the world, interconnected with just about everything else and encapsulating over a million different issues. And it’s challenging to even imagine how a small team of students could even make a difference in such a space.
But as the day went on, and Student Voice Live! happened, my eyes were opened to conversations and more importantly the potential of impact in a way I have never seen it before.
Even though Student Voice is a relatively vague concept that tends to spark more discussions than action or results, it still is a determining factor in how the students of today are prepared and empowered to take on the problems of tomorrow.
There’s been some research done into this idea, but the challenge today as it has always been, is figuring out how to arrive at a goal that is so seemingly abstract.
I don’t necessarily have a good answer for that at the moment, but I do know that this past weekend was an example of students coming together and using their voices to put something on that was tangible.
I’ve always had dreams to change the world.
I’ve always wanted to impact people in a positive way, leaving a legacy greater than myself.
In 2009, I started diplateevo with the intent of writing content in order to help people. I started writing about education, technology, leadership, etc.
At first, I expected people to pick up my content. I wanted people to read what I had to share, and be impacted by the things I was learning the same way that I had. I thought I had something to share, and I wanted people to partake in it.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before I realized that I couldn’t be writing to get known. As counter intuitive as it seems, after I started writing for myself, writing about things to satisfy myself, that I finally began seeing growth.
My most popular post to date, my post on ambiverts, has gotten over 53,000 views. I wasn’t writing it to attract a reader base, I wrote it because I was putting a new idea into words.
I used to write for other people, now I write for myself.
Writing for yourself gives you the freedom to truly express the things that are on your mind, allowing yourself to be true to yourself. My measure of growth is no longer in the number of people that read my posts, but how I feel like I am developing personally as a blogger.
And even if it doesn’t make me famous, I know that writing about what is true to myself is always the best way to live. Even composers such as Beethoven weren’t recognized for their work until long after they had been deceased.
The point is to keep doing great work, especially if you aren’t recognized by people for it.
Growth should never be determined by how many new readers you are getting, but by how your work is changing to reflect who you really are.
While reading Developing the Leaders Around You by John C. Maxwell, his section about the different levels of leadership really stood out to me.
Within leadership, there are generally three distinct levels of leading. The three levels indicate different levels of commitment, involvement, and relationship.
Nurturing: The focus in a nurturing relationship is based on need. The leader is committed to fulfilling the individual’s needs. This type of relationship is generally based on spontaneous decision to help a person with a specific task.
Equipping: The focus in an equipping relationship is based on task. The leader is committed to teaching the individual how to perform a certain task. This type of relationship is a short term commitment to teach a person a skill in order to perform tasks.
Developing: The focus in a developing relationship is based on the person. The leader is committed to the person unconditionally. This type of relationship is a long term commitment to mentor a person in all aspects of life so that their mentee can mentor someone else.
Realistically, a leader should nurture everyone, equip and handful, and develop a few. A leader that doesn’t equip or develop anyone is a leader that creates dependency on himself / herself, making it difficult for an organization to continue without him / her. A leader that tries to develop too many people is often bent over backwards trying to invest a lot into everyone, ultimately not being able to act according to what they say.
If leadership is truly about serving and doing what is best for the people you are leading, leaders must create a model that is practical, scalable, and meaningful.
Someone else will always get more recognition for doing less significant work.
Steve Jobs, the mastermind behind Apple, was heralded as a visionary and creative genius according to the Apple website. The man knew how to position Apple according to their audience, and create value that no one has ever seen before. He was known by millions as the guy who lived a minimalist life and designed flawless products. He knew how to create, how to brand, and how to sell. He deserves the respect for bringing accessible and beautiful technology into the hands of so many everyday consumers.
But arguably, Dennis Ritchie, the creator of the C programming language, and co-creator of the Unix operating system, had a much greater impact on the world of computing. With practically every modern program, kernel, and compilers written in C, Steve Jobs would not have had the impact that he did without the work of Dennis Ritchie. Dennis Ritchie was the genius that empowered every single technology company today to do what they do. The work of Dennis Ritchie laid the foundation that Apple, Microsoft, Google, etc built their companies on top. And not surprisingly, Ritchie had much less recognition than Jobs did.
In the same way, being a teacher usually doesn’t come with a great opportunity to become recognized by millions, but being a teacher presents hundreds of opportunities to empower students with what they need to be recognized by millions.
The difference between success and significance is that success means doing something that impacts millions while significance means doing something that empowers a handful to impact millions. Success is about building yourself a name, while significance is about empowering someone else to build a name. Significant people who empower individuals have no idea how many people those individuals will impact.
The people who have truly changed the world are sometimes largely unrecognized, because they valued empowering specific people over being known by all people. So to all the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, teachers, counselors, mentors, friends, etc out there, thank you for your significant impact on the world.
Do you want to be successful or significant? Neither is less honorable than the other, and the two are not always mutually exclusive.
As a recently graduated high school senior (class of 2012) that has served in leadership in various clubs and groups, there is definitely a lot more to leadership than it might seem. Here are a couple of pointers.
Take Risks. You will fail sooner or later, and once you come to accept that, you will realize that you grow best in leadership when you learn from your own mistakes. With that said, never hesitate to venture out into the unknown, and do things in ways that no one has ever done before. Think outside the preconceived traditional ways of leading, and focus on doing whatever you can to help.
Lead By Example. The fastest way to lose people who support you is talking the talk without walking the walk. Lessons are infinitely more valuable when you teach from experience. When you experience something, you experientially know what is practical and what is impractical.
Inspire People. Inspire people to action. Give them the freedom to question you, and make yourself open to any opinions or concerns people might have. Invest above and beyond what is required of you into these people’s lives, and get to know people personally.
Have a Vision. Establish a vision and refer back to it often, so that you constantly take steps toward your goal. A vision is something that often takes weeks to establish, and may change as things go along. Since having a fuzzy goal leads to fuzzy results, try to be clear with your vision, defining every little term so that everyone who hears your mission statement interprets it the same way.
Serve Humbly. Leading is not about building yourself up and making yourself famous. Ironically, the way to most successfully lead any group of people is to build them up and make them famous. Because when you empower other people to lead other groups, your influence extends to people you would never have had time to influence. Learn to build other people up.
Communicate. Being able to communicate is perhaps the most valuable asset to a leader. Focus on being able to express your ideas clearly, meaning that you probably may have to repeat yourself. Also understand that communication is two way, meaning listening is also key to communication. Take interest in what the other person has to say, and value them as individuals. There is no such thing as overcommunication.
Lastly, remember that you are dealing with high schoolers, which means you are dealing with a huge variety of maturity levels and changing personalities. Don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go your way, because leading a teenage kids can be a real challenge. Just pick yourself up and keep being awesome.