STLF Staples: Leadership is tough
Author: Lindsay Pluger
In honor of STLF’s 13th birthday I will be writing my blog series on some of the 13 Staples of STLF. These staples are our fun way of describing the culture and character of STLF. I’ll be talking about these, in no specific order, specifically how they relate to my life in the office and on tour.
Leadership is tough. It can be tough to be in a leadership position or try to obtain a position of leadership. One thing I never thought was difficult was defining leadership or trying to connect it to everyday life. Having participated in three Pay It Forward Tours in college and now staffing middle school and high school Tours it is incredible to see the connections that are made in such a short time.
I recently staffed The Altamont Pay It Forward Tour, October 3rd-6th, where we had the opportunity of working with a group of students from a college preparatory school in Birmingham, AL. These students were incredible, I learned so much about math, science, Latin, and of course the University of Alabama (ROLL TIDE!). Something I was not expecting was a conversation I had with my small group about the importance of knowing your leadership and how to build community. This conversation was prompted when I asked them to tell me more about their school and I would tell them more about the story of STLF and how we work with students in many different states. As I started to tell our founding story one of the students stopped me and told me he could not continue until he learned what leadership meant. This shocked me because they had been referring to themselves and future leaders and other groups that they are involved in at their school earlier when we were all together with the large group.
Seeing that STLF’s mission is revealing leadership through service, relationships, and action I knew I could not fully explain who we are and what we do until we had this discussion so I had everyone go around the circle and say what they personally thought leadership meant to them. Among the seven of them there was a lot of talk about directing people, helping people, and negative leadership (unfortunate but it does exist). After they all had a chance to speak I elaborated on what it means to reveal your leadership. STLF is an organization that believes everyone can be and is a leader, you just need to put in the right situation to reveal your leadership and that can become your way of life rather than just a skill. We also talked about how the students feel leadership is a term that is used so much in our society, especially in educational settings, that it can begin to lose meaning to them. Even after this conversation the student that first prompted this discussion says that even though he can be president of a club or have good grades he does not know if he can lead a group of people. I look at him and I just say, tell me where this conversation started when we first sat down, now tell me where this conversation has been led to; didn’t you just lead our small group conversation so we could all learn and reflect on something new? Each student let out a collective, “wow”, and one student just plainly says, “wow, he revealed his leadership”.
Throughout the course of the trip we continued to have more conversations and challenge ourselves to see where we were leading throughout service projects, activities, and even free time. Each night at small group, I would present a potential subject or something we needed to discuss then each person would have a chance to lead the conversation, just as it was done the night before. Leadership is tough, it is not always easy but maybe the first step is defining what it means to you and what you can bring to the group.