Leadership is Not a Title, It’s the Ability to Empower Others

by Tim Janssen

Leadership is not an affair of the head. Leadership is an affair of the heart.” (Kouzes and Posner, 2002, The Leadership Challenge)

The idea of leadership is fascinating. In its archaic state, leadership was associated with cumbersome titles and images of omniscient power. Thankfully, evolving thought has opened our minds to realize leadership requires collaboration. Hammer continues to highlight this effort by promoting “leading from where you are” as an organizational focus. This summer, I had an opportunity to delve further into this idea during a week-long course on the East coast.

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In July, I attended the Leadership Institute hosted by The National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities at the University of Delaware. Let’s not confuse this with a conference: the only “optional” session each day was… sleep. The week was filled with classes and conversations that challenged the heart of what, where, why, and how we provide supports for individuals living with developmental disabilities.

Out of my five days in attendance, only one was dedicated to exploring my personal attributes as a leader. While the feedback was incredibly beneficial, I found it intriguing that 20% of our time together focused on leadership as an individual. It reinforced the ideal that leadership is not a solo venture. Whether you’re a DSP (Direct Support Professional) or volunteer, family or friend, in Human Resources or a CEO: we are all leaders in our own way.

Me (far right), self-advocate Nathan, and our friends from The Arc.

Me (far right), self-advocate Nathan (2nd from left), and our friends from The Arc.

Beginning my career directly supporting individuals at one of our Hammer homes, I understand how it feels to be a participatory leader: exciting, frustrating, rewarding, confusing, challenging. These emotions (and more) are often experienced in a five minute window. Relationship power allows us to carry out our mission through any circumstance. Now serving as a Program Director, the feeling hasn’t changed. No matter what role you play in this field, you are expected not only to serve as a leader in multiple capacities, but to empower the individuals you support to be leaders of their own lives.

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