Becoming a leader doesn’t happen over night. And we’d wager that the road to power and influence isn’t a linear upward trajectory to some glass ceiling, but rather a winding, circular path that forces you to reckon with what has come before on your way to what’s next. In honor of Women’s History Month, we visualized the small, but powerful steps it takes to become a leader. Follow this interactive guide on your own path towards your goals and you’ll see how your actions can have a ripple effect on all who come with you and after you.
Step 1: Know Your Herstory
Herstory shows us that for every celebrated, recognized person there are countless other untold, unknown stories. Evidence indicates that these omitted stories can have a profound effect on shaping the present and future. According to Jean Sinzdak, associate director of Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP), the leading source of analysis on women’s participation in government, our perceptions of who leads are formed early and are often reinforced through the stories and models of leadership represented in media and taught in schools. When the accepted narrative diminishes the contributions of certain groups, our history becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and can hinder the true potential of would-be leaders. As Virginia Woolf is often quoted…
So step 1 to becoming a leader: know trailblazers have come before you even if they have not been visible.
Thanks to the democratic nature of the new media landscape, it’s up to all of us to shine a spotlight on deserving people and stories. Here are a couple templates to help you do just that on social media. Simply remix the templates with a little-known factoid or person you admire.
Step 2: See Others Doing It
Just as those who came before you can shape the present, seeing others striving today is often the best motivation. Here are a just a few ways women are making history right now. Tap the image to remix the templates and share how you or others are making a difference. #RepresentationMatters
Step 3: Get Started Anywhere
The path to leadership is made up of a million small steps. According to Sinzdak, “There is a perception that you need to know everything about every issue before you run for office. You don’t—you just need a passion for learning and a commitment to public service. The rest will follow.”
The same can be said for every type of leadership—whether it be in the public sector, in companies, or communities. So what advice does Sinzdak offer for young women who are interested in leadership? Get started where you can, step outside of your comfort zone, and have some fun: “Seek out leadership opportunities whenever possible. They don’t have to be politically related—for example, you could be the captain of a sports team. And they don’t even have to be the top position—you could quietly organize a food drive for example, as opposed to running for class president (although that’s obviously great, too!). The point is that you can develop your own leadership skills in a variety of ways, and all are valuable. As long as you are looking to learn and expand your horizons and push your limits, your leadership skills will grow.”
Not sure where to start? Try thinking in the following terms:
Step 4: Define Your Purpose
Something powerful happens when you can put your purpose into words. A good mission statement helps all else flow from how you spend your time to how you communicate. But finding your why is easier said than done, right? Like Step 3, defining your purpose doesn’t have to be as lofty as it sounds and it can grow and change with you as you progress. Check out how some other modern-day leaders have tackled this task and answered their own calls to action.
Step 5: Find Your Tribe to Rise
With purpose defined and actions taken, it’s time to find the people who will help you succeed. Whether its a group or a mentor, one things for sure, we can’t do it alone.
Already have your tribe? Then your job is to find someone who needs lifting up. The path is circular, so the work is never done—and that’s a good thing! Just as Harriet Tubman spent her life freeing others, if you are free, your job is to free someone else in order to continue the circle. As author Toni Morrison says, “If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”
And that is the circular path of leadership. Keep walking. We’re with you.
Design by Amanda Fetterly
Reporting and research by Renae Hurlbutt
Sources: Center for American Women in Politics