Some of us might have difficulty explaining what it is that makes a successful leader; but like great art, when it comes to leadership, we know it when we see it. What is the secret? What do great leaders have that you and I don’t? The truth is that each of us has the gift of extraordinary leadership within us. Stop for a moment; reflect on that statement. What do you really believe about leadership and your own ability to lead?
“I’d like to believe that we can all be leaders; but truthfully, I don’t believe it’s possible. Leaders are born not made! They have some special quality that the rest of us don’t have; after all that’s what makes them leaders. And by the way, if everyone is a leader, then whom are they leading? “
My wife, Liz has been teaching middle school math for more than ten years. She is a good teacher; competent, dedicated and caring. Neither her colleagues, nor Liz herself, thought of her as a leader. One day she received an e-mail from my aunt, a nun, who was living and teaching in Zimbabwe.
“Now to respond to some of your comments; first, about partnering with a school here… I’m not too sure what that entails; but it would not be possible for the children to write letters because the postage is very expensive ($20,000 to the States).
Of course, the hyperinflation presently in Zimbabwe, puts everything in the thousands, hundreds of thousands and millions. Our inflation is the highest in the world, presently at 3770% and rising almost daily. A loaf of bread costs $15,000 and meat is ridiculous…a chicken costs anywhere from $80,000 to $125,000! Unfortunately, wages do not keep up with the inflation.
Since we have an unemployment rate of 80% that does not help the situation. Add about 30% of the population with HIV/AIDS and a life expectancy of 37 yrs. and you get a pretty grim picture and that is not even half the story !
As far as schools go, so many children have dropped out of school because parents can’t pay school fees. We have many charitable organizations which are trying to help, and so many children are still in school even though the families can’t afford it. Most schools do not have textbooks, or very few. Even notebooks are a big expense with maybe 48 pages and they cost about $13,000 each! Let me tell you every scrape of paper is used here. So, if you let me know what ‘partner’ means, I’ll see what I can do. I assume you mean primary school??? Children’s clothing, or any clothing for that matter is always useful.”
Liz was shocked by the conditions that were described in the e-mail. She tried to let it go; to focus on her work. It’s nearing the end of the year; kids and teachers alike are tired and ready for summer vacation; but the images of children in Zimbabwe with so little; stayed with her. She thought about the scads of paper that kids were leaving behind in their desks everyday when they left her class.
What should she do? Should she send money or materials for the kids? Would they get through? Should she develop some plan of action and then recruit others to be part of it? She wasn’t good at this kind of thing and she knew it.
She composed an e-mail to the faculty of her school and cut and pasted my aunt’s e-mail into it. She wasn’t exactly sure why she wanted to do this. She wasn’t sure what she wanted as an outcome. She sat looking at the e-mail after she had it written and ready to send.
There was a voice in her, telling her,
“This is stupid. People are not going to want to see this. They’re busy. They’re going to think you’re a bleeding heart. It’s a real ‘downer’ of a note. This is not your kind of thing. Who are you to be getting involved in this? You’ve never done anything like this before! It’s probably easier to take care of this within the family and not involve the school.”
There was another voice speaking to Liz, the voice of the great leader that is in each of us. A voice that calls us to do things that seem beyond our reach, a voice that calls us to stretch, to act on behalf of a purpose that is beyond our own immediate need and our own fears. It was this voice to which Liz listened. She pressed ENTER and the e-mail was sent.
It unleashed a chain of events that would change Liz’s life, the life of school children in Zimbabwe, and the lives of her teaching colleagues and their students.
The leader came alive.