Georgia — When the word leader comes to mind argumentatively, many immediately picture an individual holding a leadership position. This expected assumption of what a leader is can be understood as what society would want people to think.
What makes a true leader is separate from holding a leadership position and, instead, based on an individual's actions. Being a leader, by definition, is having a leadership role in an organization, business, or group. However, what it means to be a genuine leader originates from action rather than title. Authentic leadership is characterized by integrity, character, humility, empathy, practical listening skills, and kindness to others, especially those different. These characteristics are the main elements that create a leader.
As the recently elected Student Body President of my school Oglethorpe University, my previous leadership role experiences taught me various life lessons. I recall navigating challenging situations where initiatives were not going according to plan and needed more time to execute. But with my influential and compassionate mentors, I learned a new motto: "Find a way or make one." I had divided the workload among teammates and had those strongest in certain areas take charge. My conviction that I am on the right track to becoming an effective leader results from empowering others to become leaders. As a result, more events that my statewide team had designed to bring different communities together benefited young people in learning how to network and utilize the opportunities we gave them to get civically engaged.
Whether local or statewide, leading organizations is challenging because it is much easier to follow than lead; despite this, leadership comes with responsibilities often taken for granted and exploited by others. From those elected into office to business CEOs, it is clear that genuine leadership can be tricky to find these days.
True leaders are those with character and are truthful even when no one is watching. For example, John Lewis was a true leader who led young and older people to fight for what was right by getting them to open their minds to recognizing injustices and calling them out. John Lewis March's novel memoir series is a testimony to what he underwent during the Civil Rights Movement, and we honor his legacy by seeing how his leadership positively impacted society. He is the kind of leader I strive to be, not because of the legacy he leaves behind. Instead, he showed the world that the Civil Rights Movement was our movement and the power of unity.
History echoes current events, such as fighting for justice for more targeted groups and repeated attacks on marginalized communities. That is why it is crucial for young minds, especially, to learn and understand the true meaning of leadership. Once the elements that make a true leader are put into practice, we know that those holding positions or leading roles are in it for the right reasons and can lead with an open heart that is there to represent all.
Ashleigh Ewald (she/her/hers) is a Georgia-based journalist who attends Oglethorpe University. Follow her on IG: @ashleighewaldofficial.
Edited by NaTyshca Pickett