There is an interesting thing that happens as we grow. We are born completely dependent upon the relationship we have with our caregivers. That relationship is life-giving, freeing, and supportive. We can do nothing separate from that relationship and depend fully upon the support and care provided.
Then we venture into the world of being a toddler. Suddenly, we become more aware of our ability to be independent. We become brave enough to try because we have yet to learn the impact of failure. After one or two successful independent attempts, it happens. The mindset of “I can do it all by myself” emerges.
When it comes to walking, we push away the extended hand, opting to balance ourselves by ourselves. “I can do it all by myself.”
When it comes to eating, we exchange the invitation of mealtime fellowship for doing it our way and at our own pace. “I can do it all by myself.”
When it comes to playing, we realize we don’t have to follow the rules of the game if no one else is playing the game with us. “I can do it all by myself.”
When it comes to achievement, we buy into the thought of if no one is helping us achieve, we don’t have to bother with collaboration, navigating relational speed bumps, or sharing the glory. “I can do it all by myself.”
And suddenly, we have emerged into the dangerous, yet all too common world of an “all by myself” mindset. When we are in our toddler years, this mindset is part of the natural maturation process, but those that get stuck in this stage find themselves attempting to do, to achieve, to accomplish, all with the mindset of “I can do it all by myself.” The result… we will fall short of doing anything impactful or world changing. Why? Because things done in isolation remain isolated. It is a proverbial graveyard for all things once imagined but never achieved because anything worthwhile often results from relational collaboration.
Those that say yes to leadership, especially those who desire to exemplify servant leadership modeled by Jesus, can’t get stuck in a silo of independence if the hope is to achieve anything which results in life or world change. Relationships matter. People matter. And our ability to lead is dependent upon our ability to leverage relational equity.
The effectiveness of our leadership is contingent upon our ability to build meaningful, trust-filled, and authentic relationships. If we desire to do anything worthwhile, we must move from a siloed mindset to one of connection and community. This collaborative mindset allows us to build meaningful connections that foster innovation and inspiration. If building strong and impactful relationships truly is this powerful, why do so many neglect it? Perhaps we’ve bought into a few false assumptions as we’ve battled the “I can do it all by myself” mindset.
False assumption #1 – It’s supposed to be lonely at the top. It doesn’t take much research to show why this is a false assumption. If we are at the top then we are in a position of leadership, and leadership is only accomplished through influence. If we aren’t influencing a group of people, rallying them together to achieve something meaningful, then we aren’t leading. If no one is following us, we are only taking a walk. Perhaps this is where the mindset of loneliness comes from. I refuse to buy into the lie that if we are leading, we must go it alone. But rather, leadership should be collaborative, trust-filled, and motivational.
Bernard Montgomery defined leadership as the “capacity and will to rally men and women to a common purpose and is one who has character which demonstrates confidence.” As a leader who walks with Jesus, we must defy the temptation of isolation. Instead, we invite others to walk with us. Because as they walk with us, if we have an eternal interest in everyone we invite on the journey, there’s a good chance they will get to know Jesus along the way. Isn’t that our greatest hope as leaders?
False assumption #2 – We can accomplish it on our own, within our walls. As educators, we believe in competence and problem-solving. We believe in discovery, learning, and the ability to think and reason. All these things are great. They are needed and relevant. But we fall short of becoming powerfully impactful in achieving great change or making a ripple effect difference when we fail to realize how powerful collaboration outside our school walls can be. The strongest educational organizations are the ones that look beyond their internal resources, to the community, to other organizations, and to sister schools, with the intention and desire to develop meaningful relationships that will allow everyone to achieve their goals.
Stronger together isn’t just a catchy phrase. The truth of it is demonstrated throughout Scripture as we see the greatest Leader to walk this earth, Jesus, surround himself with people. He could accomplish all He needed to “all by Himself,” and yet He chose to be collaborative and relational. He could have solved problems in isolation, but instead, he invited a group of people to join in the process. He said, “Come and follow me.” And they did. Jesus demonstrated to us that it isn’t lonely at the top and we can accomplish more together than we ever could separately.
Relationships made today matter for tomorrow. They matter as we seek to lead this generation of students and empower today’s educators. They matter as we seek to have a cultural impact on our communities, our nation, and this world. Relationships allow us to leave an indelible impact on the people who come within our influence, even when we aren’t aware of it.
This is what relational leadership looks like. And there is no room for “all by myself.”
Editor’s Note: Join Emily at ACSI’s Flourishing Schools Institute (FSi), where she will be speaking on the flourishing domain of Relationships and the construct of Community Engagement. The next FSi will be in Phoenix, Arizona on November 7-9, 2023. Register your team today!
About the Author
Emily Pigott serves as the Director of Student Leadership & Learning at ACSI and is dedicated to equipping educators and students to utilize culturally relevant and impactful experiences to enable them to think critically, vision-cast, solve problems, serve others, and lead with intentionality and influence. She has traveled the globe training student leaders and educators and is committed to ensuring that as many as possible can understand their value, worth, and capacity to accomplish their dreams. Emily believes that today’s students are full of potential, and she holds the firm belief that they are more than capable of greatly impacting our culture for Jesus. Before her time at ACSI, Emily served as a high school principal, the Executive Director of Student Leadership University, and the co-author of The School of Leadership curriculum.