Leaders go first

I shared with a friend recently that I see leaders as my target audience for the Gift of Happiness. Not necessarily people in leadership roles (although they could be), but people who think and act like leaders.

I happen to consider this friend such a person, so it surprised me a little when she pushed back on my use of the word, cautioning me that there may be people in my audience who wouldn't use that word to describe themselves. Herself, for instance.

For her, the word "leader" brought to mind the person in charge who seeks power and control, and puts their own needs above others'. Someone who is bossy and manipulative, and maintains their position by instilling fear.

This is decidedly not what I mean by leadership.

Lately I've been defining leadership very simply as the willingness to go first. Quite literally, to take the lead. To do something before other people do it. Before it's "normal" or comfortable or accepted, and before the outcome is guaranteed. Not because it will win you acceptance or approval from others, but because it feels to you like the right thing to do.

To be kind to someone who hasn't yet been kind to you is a form of leadership. To be the first one to apologize after an argument is leadership. To do any scary-but-important thing that others are avoiding is leadership. Being a leader makes it easier for others to follow suit, so that positive changes can happen in your collective experience.

To me, starting to put signs on my lawn that said things like You are Loved and You are Worthy was a form of leadership. Why? Because no one else was doing it. By definition, it was weird. And it made me weird, in a much more public way than I was used to.

It scared me to go first. But it also felt really important, because these are messages that I know people are longing for right now. I see us longing for our kids to feel safe and cared for. Longing to believe for ourselves that we are needed and important. Longing to hear from our leaders that our lives and interests matter. Longing to see love and wisdom embodied in our collective actions.

These signs help give us a taste of what all of that would feel like at the community level, and can help inspire people to act in other ways that create feelings of love and care and belonging. To be leaders for kindness.

My hope is that all of you who plant Signs of Kindness, or use Connection Cards, or help create happiness and well-being in so many other ways, recognize that you, too, are leaders. Not ego-trippy ones like my friend (wisely) wanted to distance herself from, but leaders who know what they truly value and are committed to bringing more of it into their lives -- even if it sometimes means facing the discomfort of going first.