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Leaders Become

Leaders are not born nor made. Leaders become. 

When I was a kid, people often told me I had nice hair. And, I did. I got it from my Mom.  

When I was twelve, I decided to cut my very long hair into a cute bob. As a creative and artsy kid, the big haircut tracked with my flair for style. In 7th grade, I often wore a black wire-brimmed hat. The bob and the hat were super cute. Very early 1990s.  

Shortly after my fabulous haircut, an adult friend of the family expressed his disappointment that I cut my hair because “hair is a woman’s glory.” 

Not my intelligence nor my kindness. Not my strength or resilience. Not that I was creative and painted and colored. Not that I was a good friend.  

My hair. 

What mattered was something about how I looked. Nothing about my worth as a person, my character, or my leadership potential. Intentionally or not, the family friend communicated to me that what is important is appearance, and without it, I disappointed others. 

His brief expression of disappointment echoed in my heart and mind. I questioned whether I made the right choice to cut my hair. I wondered whether I would disappear.  

Fortunately, my almost-teenage angst and need for independence won over, and I rocked my bob with little concern. 

However, the thought that hair is important stuck with me. As a girl, I thought about it too much. As a young woman, I also thought about it. As a young professional, I questioned whether my effectiveness in meeting new stakeholders and leading resolution to technology problems was related to appearance or the skills, knowledge, and experience I brought to the table. 

After much internal work, I overcame the hang-up. Over the years, I’ve had long hair, super short hair, and everything in between. What’s more important is the person I am, my values, and my contributions to the world around me as a leader and a coach. 

Something about Women’s History Month reminded me of my hair journey. Although, really, it was a journey of unlearning false narratives and growing into my leadership practice. I’ve known that leadership is not something people are born with. Leadership is a set of skills that can be learned and refined. I also believe leaders are not made. We are not manufactured things. We are people with autonomy and agency. 

Leaders are not born. Leaders are not made either. Leaders become.  

Leadership is developed over time by acquiring and refining skills that facilitate the mutual influence among people toward a common goal. Leadership includes practices such as communication, strategic thinking, and collaboration. These skills and practices are contextualized by our backgrounds and experiences. How we lead is informed by everything we take in as we grow and emerge. 

We have a responsibility to contribute to the becoming of the young and emerging leaders around us. We can speak words that affirm the leadership potential and character development of the young people in our lives. Words matter and indicate to impressionable minds and hearts what is important, how we assess them, and how they might assess their self-worth. 

Maybe one of the best things we can do for girls and women—and really, for everyone—is to speak words that call out their leadership potential and celebrate their enduring character. We can speak words that build their courage to lead now and in the future to empower their becoming. 

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