*This article was originally written for the Apex blog, run by Jeff Woods. It's not as much of a photography post as it is a personal life post on my past, my goals, and how I lead my life and business. Thanks for reading.
At 27, I am just beginning to fully understand what it means to be a leader. There are various aspects of my life that demanded that I be a leader in some capacity, and others where I have chosen it. My father died when I was 15, and as the oldest of 4 kids many people started me that I was the ‘Man of house’ and that I needed to not only be a leader for my siblings, but strong for my mom. I took this as seriously as anyone that age probably could have, and there where times where I both lived up to, and fell short of that demand. I attended Columbia College in Chicago for photography, and dropped out after my third year based on the decision that more debt would hinder my travel dreams and ability to keep living costs low when I wanted to become self employed. In 2013 I started my own business, and became fully financially dependent on it within a year. That same year I also purchased my first home, followed by getting married in 2014. Through all of these phases of life, there are a few constant things I have observed about leading that I really believe will carry me forward.
Big Picture Focus - Lead for the long haul. As you take on projects, jobs, or personal life responsibilities, don’t get so wrapped up in the immediate that you lose sight of your long term goals. Just as a good architect wouldn’t put together a bunch or random rooms to see if it functioned as a house, you need to approach everything from a standpoint of how it fits into your long term goals and values. As a leader this sometimes just means saying no to a project, even if you feel guilty for doing so. It can also mean trusting and empowering someone else to manage and take ownership of a task so you can focus on other things. There will always be some projects or responsibilities that are required of us that seem to make no sense at all. When I am in these moments I try and learn whatever I can from them so that my other areas can at least be strengthened through what I experienced.
Quiet Leadership - I will admit that in a social situation I can be the crazy that likes to have a good laugh. When it comes to the things that are important to me and pursuing my dreams, I tend to be a quiet leader, and let what I am doing speak for itself. There are times when It is necessary to be vocal and confident in what you are doing, but your actions almost always make a bigger impact. There is always going to be someone louder, flashier, and trying to hog whatever attention is available. Trying to compete with that will only leave you depressed, and will just distract you from actually accomplishing anything. Leading with your work and not just your mouth is a lot harder. Its definitely the slow path, but when the others run out of things to say, you'll have accomplished something worth sharing.
Enabling Leadership - This type of leadership can take many forms, be it submitting to your spouse, confidently trying out something new that an employee thinks of, or just not being that person that has to have the last word in a social conversation. I personally find surrendering to others the hardest. I am a very calculated thinker, and often map out every outcome of any situation beforehand. Letting others make a decision even if its not the one you would make is such a powerful way to show that you value someone and trust them. From doing this it has also taught me that different isn't always wrong. Better is often relative, and sometimes being willing to let an employee or peer do something their own way can be such a valuable learning experience and trust building experiences.
I find it interesting that Leadership and its value is almost always tied to the corporate world, and almost every example you hear about is from a business leader. I understand it, because people want to emulate and learn the success of others, but there are so, so many more areas of our lives where we are often called to be a leader but the opportunities tend to go ignored because their may be no financial benefit to them. The most rewarding moments in my life have been when I have let go, and just enabled the people around me with my best energy and commitment. The past few years I have had the honor of helping friends start businesses, become freelance creatives, and land big projects that didn’t always have a direct benefit to me. It was about helping others reach their potential, realize their dreams, and grow as well. Those experiences are priceless not only from the relationships they have formed, but from what I have learned as well.