Finding Leaders in an Unexpected Place
When you think of where to find good leaders, what comes to mind? The corporate world? Political leaders? History? What about in a high school in urban Richmond, Virginia whose student body includes residents of four of Richmond’s six public housing projects? To add to the challenge, 96% of the student body is considered economically disadvantaged, and the school has not been accredited in the last three years. While that probably isn’t where your mind goes first when you think of where to find leaders, I found 25 student leaders there this week.
I walk into the meeting room at Armstrong High School with the members of the Armstrong Leadership Program, I meet students who understand that the first person anyone leads is themselves. Each of those students applied to participate in this program, showing initiative and a desire to be a leader. They also understand leadership is a journey they are on with others. They start the meeting congratulating each other on college acceptances, applications completed, internships received, and interviews held. They know they are in this together.
I was leading a workshop, where I shared with these young leaders that actions lead to results, and if you are getting the results you want, you continue with those actions. But if you are not getting the results you want, something has to change, and that something is you. We discussed how they are made up of body, emotions, and self-talk, and how changing any one of those aspects of themselves has an impact on the others.
To learn more about how the body influences emotions and self-talk, they all got in a low power pose, then noticed how they felt and how they were thinking. Then they got in a high power pose, all standing up strong, shoulders back, elbows out, modeling leadership presence, and noticed how they felt differently compared to what they were feeling in the low power pose, and how their thoughts were more positive. We discussed emotions like being in love, and how that affects the body, how hearts pound, and they feel like they’re walking on air. This affects what you say to yourselves, how even a cloudy, rainy day becomes beautiful when we are in love. The topic of stories came into the discussion. Specifically about humans constantly telling stories about themselves and the world around them, how they talk to themselves all the time, and how a negative story affects our body and emotions leading them to see different possibilities and to take different actions than when our story is positive. I encouraged them to notice themselves, without judgment, to be mindful.
Then, I unveiled their superpower - CHOICE. I shared a quote from Viktor Frankl – “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” They have the power to choose, and to access that superpower, they need to be aware of their body, emotions, and self-talk, then make the choices that will lead them to take actions to get the results they want.
Really, they already have superpowers. They are resilient, curious, caring, and creative. They want to be entrepreneurs, to help the homeless, to become soldiers and nurses. In this school many students presume that, because of the gangs and guns that are a part of their daily life, they won’t live past the age of 20. These students have a vision for themselves and are executing on that vision. What more could you ask from a leader?