Is leadership important to me? Based on the title of this writing, there is no other way for me to answer than a resounding YES. Allow me to first establish some background information about myself for the purpose of this article...
My name is Alex Michaud and as of the Spring 2020 semester, I am a junior studying Psychology here at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I work at the Illinois Leadership Center as a Graf Intern and am in the process of completing the Leadership Studies Minor, among many other leadership involvements on campus. Our university is one of the best places to improve as a leader because of the resources we have (shameless ILC plug) and the boundless opportunities for experience through RSOs, research, student organizations, Greek Life, etc. You name the spot; waiting there is a chance to develop yourself as a leader.
Tracing back to early high school I have always been a leader in my immediate vicinity. Growing up, I was a leader and a role model even when I did not realize it. In retrospect I see the impact I had on my peers as I guided them towards behaviors that would serve them well. Sometimes those decisions were unpopular or meant going against the grain. But I believed strongly enough in them and I saw how my decisions resonated with others who seeked the courage to act. I would like to highlight one example from high school.
I played high school football for my first three years. Why not all four, you might ask? I’ll explain. Though I was never the best athlete, I was committed to the team and always dedicated my time. I was an offensive lineman, which meant I had to be a big boy if I wanted to earn playing time, especially at a top high school program like we had. The size I reached was detrimental to my health at the time and posed potential issues for my future condition as well. So, I decided to trend in the opposite direction and lose weight during the offseason leading up to my final year. Long story short, I ended up quitting football and joining the cross country team during my final year of high school. This was unheard of for an offensive lineman, not to mention going into senior year of high school. I was met with a polite form of disdain by coaches as well as some teammates. Critics are bound to surface when you make an unpopular decision.
Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.
After the season, though, I had old peers from the football team approach me and ask how they could lose weight. Unknowingly, I had become an inspiration story for many who struggled with the same issues centered around unreasonable eating habits encouraged by the football program for the sake of their record. This was my first great opportunity to work with individuals who were committed to improving and viewed me as someone who could show them the way. I was no expert, nor did I need to be, but I was living proof of an alternative to what they had known. This was the first indication to me that I had leadership potential and something valuable to give.
As I grow up, leadership continues to take on different meanings. One of the wonders (and challenges) of leadership is that it is dynamic in nature. A great leader does not remain stagnant; leading requires adaptation to the time, situation, and environment. Leadership also requires that you give of yourself with the goal of making the world better for everyone. Oftentimes, this means starting small. I will never forget what one of my best friends once said to me: “You’ve got to start somewhere.” Reflecting on this simple wisdom has allowed me to connect each step I have taken on this path towards becoming a better leader and leaving a truly positive impact on the world. If you are readings this, odds are you have had some experience which sparked your desire to pursue leadership. I hope that you can remember a time in the infant stages of your journey that you were able to positively impact someone else. Starting from there, you can connect those experiences along a path towards where you are now and eventually where you might be in the future.