I can still feel the agony of defeat: losing my fifth grade class presidential election. I was SO sure I was going to win. I mean, nobody knew that new girl Valerie who just came in fourth grade! As I ran to the bathroom in tears, I remember thinking, “How could you have been so stupid to think you would have won?” About a half dozen election losses and 7 years later, I was beginning to think I had no leadership qualities whatsoever. I couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
Losing a school election can be a serious blow to the ego. If you have been there and done that, listen up! It is dangerous thinking to assume that this reflects on your leadership capability. Maybe holding “political” office wasn’t for me, but nonetheless, I now lead hundreds of teenagers in various capacities, and I have coordinated special events of all scopes and sizes.
In high school it is tempting to think that elected office is the only way to lead. It’s tempting to think true leadership is about power or “being in charge.” Not so: authentic leadership is about the qualities you exude in the moments of defeat or struggle. Recently, a student of mine lost an election. Nicole fell short of capturing the title of student council president, but she has still stayed in touch with her authentic leadership skills. She shares her take on how to be an authentic leader below.
DEVELOP A FIERCE COMMITMENT
“Regardless of a win or loss, the level of commitment that I want to have in my school is not diminished. I have taken leadership roles in the coordinating of school events, the school newspaper, student council, CARE Service Club, National Art Honor Society, National Honor Society, and the volleyball team. The positions that I really wanted to take part in and lead have been delegated to me by the others. Even though I don’t have the title, I am still going to use my abilities.”
BE RESILIENT AND SELF-MOTIVATED
“Being an authentic leader has nothing to do with a title. Someone else being president gives me more motivation to work hard and use my gifts and talents. Sure it was a temporary setback – of course I cried, but three days later I jumped back in.”
SERVE OTHERS WITH HUMILITY
“Just because you didn’t get the majority vote, still express your leadership. This is not just being in charge of other people but being able to handle situations and help other people in their roles. Find ways to assist in any way you can. A true leader is willing to help the winner even in the wake of a loss.”
Now more than ever, our world needs authentic and effective female leaders. Though much has changed since the women’s movement, we still need to work hard to break through and influence our world, our businesses, and our society. It is crucial that those of you who may not be the president or VP of your class or favorite club to stay the course!
In a 2008 nationwide Pew Research Center Social and Demographic Trends survey, women take the lead in possessing leadership traits like honesty and intelligence over their male counterparts. Yet the study goes on to reveal the low numbers of women who hold positions like CEO or elected or appointed positions.
What does all this mean? THE WORLD NEEDS YOU and YOUR leadership. If you lost a school election in the recent past, I invite you to post here about how you are going to turn that defeat around and make a difference!
Stephanie is a service and leadership coordinator at an all-girls high school. She is also an experienced life coach for teens and adults. She can be reached at