I start by using a quote from Arthur Ashe and finish by using one from Ewan McIntosh – in between I shout out to some of the many famous and not so famous people I admire because I have seen each of them took a step to lead from the spot they happened to be in at the time they saw the need to lead.
Reading Time in Minutes
- Start where you are
- Use what you have
- Do what you can
- Lead if there’s need
About Mags Amond:
Retired teacher turned researcher, on the final leg of a PhD exploring TeachMeet and the unconference world of which CongRegation is a part.
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By Mags Amond
When I was young, I heard the elders around me (in person and on tv) grumble with deep disapproval when Tommy Smith and John Carlos used their medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics to protest as part of their Olympic Project for Human Rights campaign. As a teenager, me and my girlfriends heard (but didn’t listen to) the same grumbled disapproval as we cheered Billie Jean King as she went out on the court in 1973 and won the Battle of The Sexes challenge match. I found these events, and others, compelling at the time and resonant still – they woke me up to the fact that leaders could lead from the very spot they occupied, which might not necessarily be an appointed leadership role. My favourite quote has always been the advice attributed to another icon, Arthur Ashe – start where you are, use what you have, do what you can. To that I’d add ‘lead if there’s need’. To appropriate a term Irish grammar, it is a sort of Modh Díreach leadership. It is all around us (although it still meets with grumbling disapproval, and worse, from many). I don’t always acknowledge it, but I appreciate it.
I see it grow from one gesture by one person into global movements from which we all benefit – in 2012 when Malala Yousafzai spoke from her hospital bed having been shot for attending school; in 2018 when Greta Thunberg sat with a sign outside the Swedish Parliament, skipping school each Friday to protest climate change; in 2016, Colin Kaepernik first sitting then kneeling during the Anthem played before his football game, continuing the protest signal begun by Smith and Carlos more than fifty years ago.
I see it online in those who take time to share their expert information and experience with others in a time of crisis – there are many but my shout out of pandemic gratitude is to those who take the time to care and share their expert information (professors Trish Greenhalgh, Orla Hegarty), recount their reality (school principals Simon Lewis, Caitriona Hand, Trina Golden), and advocate for those otherwise without a voice (union official Linda Kelly). With this list, as Beckett said, I could go on …
I see enacted in many I have encountered in education networks and communities (looking at you, people in cesi.ie, and non-hierarchical systems especially TeachMeet). My experience participating in and now researching informal self-organised gatherings has introduced me again and again to the person who takes that first step when they see the need – allowing others to join in and ‘make the road by walking’, to tread a desire line shortcut from where they are now to where they know they need to be. It is servant leadership, voluntary, humble but very powerful – the meeting leadership that facilitates democratic agenda setting and ensures that voices are heard organically in a convivial setting; and the practice leadership that ensures teachers benefit by being both audience and presenter, sharing with peer practitioners. It is leadership that begets leadership.
I have seen it here each November at the Congregation unconference – individuals who takes turns leading from a chair in a huddle in the pub or the shop in a small village in the west of Ireland – simply by telling their story.
To sum up in a practical way, I borrow a quote from (one who is a role model for what I am describing) Ewan McIntosh’s crowdsourced and very useful Middle Leadership Manifesto – “Leadership is what you achieve by trying something out”.
[for a hyperlinked version, visit magsamond.com]