The Pursuit of Purposeful and Passionate Leadership
By Keeley H.
While applying for different high school programs in eighth grade, a friend of mine asked if it would be okay to put me down as a community leader who inspired her. My face instantly lit up with the realization that the work, time, and effort I put into my leadership achieved its primary goal: to make a positive impact on those around me. Still to this day, the glow never leaves my face when I think about that moment and its meaning. However, I feel the radiance I had as a young middle schooler has lost its luminance from the stress of balancing my extracurriculars, school work, social life, and sports in high school. I won’t lie, the thought of relinquishing my leadership positions has brought me peace of mind in times of burn out, but I can never bring myself to do it. When I question why I never give them up, even though if I did I probably would have a much healthier sleep schedule, I realize that leadership has shaped who I am, and more importantly, makes me happy.
Through my involvement in a variety of leadership organizations on the school, city, and state level, I have learned there’s a very specific criteria to being a happy leader that isn’t always easy to follow. Inspiring figures often become overwhelmed by the amount of emotional labor they put into their positions, which can cause exhaustion, frustration, and even the eventual departure from their roles. But through purposeful, self-fulfilling, and realistic leadership, anyone can become an encouraging, joyful human who loves what they do.
When leaders reach their inevitable “block” - a period when motivation seems impossible, creative ideas seem to lack, and the weight of guiding others to success becomes too much - they need to remind themselves of why they became a leader in the first place. Who are they trying to help? What are they trying to accomplish? What is their purpose as a leader? A personal purpose statement can help leadership feel less like an imposition and more like a rewarding mission, according to Carlos Piera-Serra from Delivering Happiness. When a leader has purpose in their work, they’re more likely to connect with the people they’re serving because their heart is in it, not because they’re chasing power, wealth, or position, which creates a genuine, personal definition of leadership. Authentic work not only makes your tasks more meaningful and enjoyable, but it also expands the impact of your actions because you put more effort into your leadership, which, in turn, inspires others to become better leaders themselves.
This idea of putting others before yourself is too heavily emphasized in leadership, though, and leaders must be careful to prioritize choice over sacrifice. When my workload kept me up until 1 AM every night, I saw my leadership responsibilities as an extra burden, or a cut into my precious and very limited sleep time. I would persistently snooze my alarm until I absolutely had to drag myself out of bed in order to make it to my morning meetings on time, and still, I would show up late. My duties weren’t being completed, my energy was low, and my heart was not in the position. I wasn’t choosing to be a leader. It took the readjustment of my priorities to make me stop viewing my responsibilities as sacrifices. I began to get my work done earlier, go to sleep at a manageable time, and incentivize my mornings with a warm cup of coffee, and miraculously, my duties were routinely accomplished, my energy was boosted, and my heart burst back into my position.
That burst will only come easily if leaders don’t lie to themselves. Typically, leaders are perfectionists - myself included. I want to do it all: be at the top of my class, be in every club, be at every sporting event…be the best. Realistically, that’s just impossible. Leaders need to allow themselves to be human and to make mistakes. You can’t please everyone, you need to sleep, and you can’t beat yourself up because of that. Once you lower your expectations for your leadership and yourself, you give yourself room to breathe. Try to use small goals to celebrate accomplishments more frequently, and do not be afraid to ask for help. Marvin Marcano, a journalist who specializes in leadership, suggests you take on the role of “empathetic leader” rather than trying to make everybody happy. The less pressure you feel, the more happy you are, which in the end, is more important than any leadership role.
Never forget to periodically pause and ask yourself if you’re happy leading. Happiness in leadership is so crucial that even a Harvard course is taught on why successful leaders need to understand and manage it, so unless you’re above Harvard, make sure you put you and your well-being first. The more you’re happy, the more positive your impact, which will always be considered a leadership success.
Brooks, Arthur. “Leadership and Happiness.” Leadership and Happiness - Course Catalog - Harvard Business School, President & Fellows of Harvard College, https://www.hbs.edu/coursecatalog/1885.html.
Marcano, Marvin. “You Can't Make Everyone Happy as a Leader.” Medium, The Startup, 20 Jan. 2020, https://medium.com/swlh/you-cant-make-everyone-happy-as-a-leader-e35572128180.
Piera-Serra, Carlos. “If You're a Leader, Can You Be Happy and Fulfilled Too?” Company Culture Tips, https://blog.deliveringhappiness.com/how-to-be-a-happier-more-fulfilled-impactful-leader.