Can you teach leadership? a.k.a. Rambling Thoughts on Mentoring Others

I’ve been becoming more aware of myself lately.  Not quite at the accepting myself the way I am stage just yet (apparently that happens as you age, and you begin to care less about what others think of you or about who you are supposed to be), but I think I am successfully navigating the path toward that stage of life.

So, the truth is, I can see a problem brewing and I can see ways to solve it before it bubbles over.  I want to take action and make things better because I want to do a good job, to make a contribution, to be true to my gifts.  But I’ve always hated being in charge when it wasn’t necessary and tried to hang back and only step in when needed.  I haven’t always done this, and I haven’t always done it well, but I’ve always regretted if I took control when there was another option.

Currently, I’m in this weird place where I am simultaneously not powerful enough to make a continued difference [at work] and trying to develop the leadership skills of others without stepping in [collegiate advising].  So, my long-standing personal crisis is coming at me in both directions.  I spent a difficult two-and-a-half hours advising last night, and I’ve been thinking today that I should have been more gentle, but stronger, more articulate, but quieter.  I am hating myself for not stepping in and regretting the times that I did step in.  At the same time.  And as confusing as it probably is to read those sentences, it’s even more confusing trying to sort those feelings out.

And isn’t that insane?  I mean, Lord only knows that I am NOT a perfect person, that I don’t always make the perfect decisions, and that I fall short in times of frustration just like anyone else.  And I know that advisors mess up all the time — it’s just part of the package — and that I will grow and change through this process just like everyone else.  But I want to be a support system and helper to the organization, and I fear that my input may make things more difficult as often as it makes things better. I can’t tell what kind of advising I am supposed to provide, and I can’t tell who to ask about doing it better.

When I was in school, our advisors were feared but respected.  When they spoke, we listened.  We certainly did not argue over rules in the middle of meetings.  It wasn’t perfect, and we weren’t perfect — It is hard to advise a student-led organization; the stronger the advisors, the less student-led it becomes.  So, you simultaneously want to hold back but give your all to the organization that you love.  And I’m sure that I am not the only one to struggle with this balance.

But I still hate how hard it feels.  And I hate most of all that I can’t provide a gentle reminder in this situation, because I have to take a stand to even be heard.  I wish I could quietly say “we need to do a, b, and then c because of blah-blah-blah,” but the circumstances currently make gentle and respectful advice ineffective.  I have to literally raise my voice and stand my ground to be heard even a little, and I hate every minute of it.

I could never be a teacher.  Actually, maybe I could be a teacher, and this is me learning how to do that.  Life is full of twists and turns, you know.  I want so much for them to succeed, and this is turning into one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

And I already finished law school and passed the bar.  So it is, like, seriously hard.  :)

P.S.  For some reason the recommended tags for this post included “War on Terrorism” and “Warfare and Conflict.”  Seriously?  What?  Way to go, WordPress.



  1. Jennifer

    I think we learn different ways of communicating at each step in life. It seems to be a constant exercise in role change, with all its attendant adjustments. Super tough!

  2. kim kelton

    How very well thought out and written…
    On a lighter note, when this first appeared in my email, the title appeared to read, “…Rambling Thong…” so much for my dsylexic self.
    Love you,

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