Leadership Has a Thousand Faces

We had perhaps the best seats at the Royal River Grill House in Yarmouth, Maine: a table for two beside a big window, looking out onto a coastal winter landscape where the river makes its way to the open sea. Reflective and calm, it was a perfect place to think about leadership.

Sara Binkhorst sat opposite me. She is the first-ever director of student leadership development at Bowdoin College, our mutual alma mater. Nearly a decade ago I watched Sara drain jump shots and dive for loose balls as a leader of the Bowdoin women’s basketball team.

That same year, at the request of Coach Shibles (another great leader), I spoke to the team about my personal leadership transformation as a result of my voice-limiting disorder, spasmodic dysphonia. I also told the team about my visits to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where I encountered an entire community that did not feel fully heard.

What is leadership? And who provides it?

These were the questions Sara and I were contemplating over salads and clam chowder on a brisk January day in Maine.

quote bubble

“You know, leadership has a thousand faces,”I said. This possibility made us pause, reflect, and smile. Of course, it does. Everyone leads, whether it’s intentionally or otherwise.

If leadership is defined as influencing yourself and others, who provides it? In terms of Sara’s work at Bowdoin, who among the college’s 1,900 active students influences their own trajectory and the experience of others during the course of any given class, day, semester, or year?

Once we asked the question, the answer was self-evident. Everybody leads!

Leadership is never limited to a few. A few people may get the top jobs and the headlines, but everyone leads. There are 332 million Americans, 535 members of Congress, and 1 sitting US president. What the 332 million do is ultimately what defines America. What happens in your house, multiplied by 131 million other US households, is cumulatively more powerful than what happens in any single house, including the big white one.

So, how do we get everyone to realize they are leading? And once this is grasped, to do so with intention?

First, we help them become aware of the fact that leadership is dispersed; we all do it. Then, we help them realize that leadership transformation is a personal act. To playoff the title of Joseph Campbell’s iconic book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, leadership at Bowdoin has 1,900 evolving faces every year.

Everybody leads!

Love and light to you!