As kids, we all played Chiefs and Indians at some point in time. I’m pretty sure we all had different rules or played a slightly varied game than others, but it was always met with high excitement and anticipation between the local neighborhood kids. If you think about it, this is sometimes a child’s first taste of leadership. As chief, you were in control of the game. It went at your pace and you called the shots. On the other hand, if you messed up as chief, things come back on you, and all the other neighborhood kids think you’re not that great of a chief. As we grow up, it turns into the line leader. You were the first person in line, you led the pace and the direction, and everyone who was a line follower gave you their utmost trust that you would get them where they needed to go, even if it was only to the playground.
Our whole lives we have small tastes and glimpses of leadership that help us understand the rudimentary principles of what being a leader consists of. We learn at an early age that being a leader is a great honor, but that honor comes at the cost of increased responsibility.
As kids, we never grasp the severity or the importance of being a leader because most of our experiences as leaders are in games or exercises in school. At what age does leadership change?
As we grow older, the stakes rise. It’s no longer juvenile games in the park, but real life challenges and responsibilities that fall on your shoulders as a leader. For lots of people, leadership changes too early. Especially in college, we see individuals who are barely considered adults becoming influential leaders and having a group of people who look up to them. It’s crazy to think about how much the word “leader” has changed since being the tetherball team leader on the middle school playground. As tetherball team leader, your main job was making sure you picked the best tetherballers with the strongest arms.
If you won, you were the greatest tetherball team leader in K-12. If you lost, you were picked last for the rest of the school year. There was always a sense of uneasiness in the back of your mind when picking the players that made you constantly question your actions and your confidence with your decisions, but you had to stay strong for the team and act like you had the strongest hand at the table.
The responsibilities of leadership have drastically changed since we were adolescents, but the way we go about leading has stayed pretty close to the same.
You have to be the one with the level head, who has all the answers and has the ability to inspire people toward a common goal. This seems easy in print, but it’s a lot more complicated than it looks.
Regardless of how confident you will be in a decision, you will always have someone question them. It gets frustrating, but you have to approach the situation with humility in order to get things right. If you are wrong in your assumptions or decision and someone says so, sometimes you need to admit you are wrong. Take that shot to your ego and realize that being a leader is not the same thing as being a dictator. You need to hear feedback and criticism, or you will stay stagnant and never progress.
On the opposite side, there will be times in which you will have to hold strong to an unpopular decision because you know it is the right call. This is one of the more challenging aspects, especially if people you consider close friends are upset by the decision. For instance, when your best bud gets upset you picked Johnny “Strong Arm” Jenkins over him for the tetherball team.
As leader of the team, you have to realize and explain to your bud that your decisions are for the good of the team and as a leader it is your responsibility to make sure the team is successful.
Middle school was tough. Being a leader is never easy, or everyone would do it. The world would be a collection of chiefs with no Indians to follow. It’s a risk. It’s increased liability for not only your actions but the actions of those you lead.
You will have days where you want to pull your hair out and just quit, but those are counteracted by successes that happened because of your leadership skills. Accomplishing a goal, winning a prize or leading your team to victory makes all of those sleepless nights and hair-pulling sessions seem worth it.
Leading is tough for the risk averse. Lots of people will live their whole lives being okay with being a follower. It never bothers them to have someone lead them, and they never have the desire to call the shots themselves. Don’t be those people. Take chances.
Make differences. If you know you have a gift for leadership, share that with the world. Let your actions and your successes ring louder as you lead your tetherball team to victory. Whether you are an 8-year-old team manager making executive decisions on the tetherball court or a 50-year-old senior manager leading a marketing team toward a multimillion dollar deal, you’re still a chief. So I’ll end with this question for you: are you an Indian, or are you a chief?
Column by Zac Garrison, Senior from Franklin, Ky.