My 15-year-old daughter, Courtney, recently participated along with 130 other girls in the Junior Teen division of the National American Miss Pageant for the state of Missouri. She has competed in pageants before, and despite some of my early reservations about her participation, I’ve seen some pretty special things come from her experience in those events.
This particular pageant system judges girls in four main areas: personal introductions about their background and future aspirations on stage in front of a large audience; one-on-one interviews with six judges; community service; and formal wear.
The audience doesn’t get to see the individual interviews, so we were eager to hear what the judges asked Courtney and how she responded. Interestingly, one of her answers went right to the heart of a core concept that relates to employee engagement.
The need to lead for everyone.
Here’s what the judge asked: “If you could be principal (CEO in kids’ parlance) for one day in your school, what one thing would you change?” I’ve always seen Courtney as a thoughtful person, but after all, she is 15, so I expected something along the lines of boosting school spirit, reducing homework, or improving the quality of the food in the cafeteria. Instead, she responded with an answer that many organizations fail to appreciate when it comes to what is commonly called “empowerment.”
She told the judge she would create more leadership opportunities for all the students. She went on to explain that she’s had the chance to serve as a student ambassador for the school, and it’s helped her grow in several ways. She added that she believes every student should have an opportunity to lead in some way in their school or their community. That’s because, she said, they’re all heading for college or somewhere else in “the real world,” and they need that kind of experience to succeed. It would also help them be more actively engaged in their school. She went on to give examples of how she would do that with multiple councils and students rotating in leadership roles. Bottom line, everyone would have a chance to lead in some way.
The leadership-engagement connection.
Not surprisingly, my first reaction was one of pride and surprise at her insight. Then after I thought about it, I asked myself a question. Why is it, I wondered, that most organizations don’t grasp how vital it is to see and support every employee as a leader – especially if we want them tuned in, turned on and taking the initiative to go the extra mile to make their organizations the best they can be?
Perhaps it’s the high-sounding meanings we typically associate with the word “leadership” … or it’s our inability to devise ways that for employees to take the lead when they can. Maybe we just don’t provide sufficient encouragement for people to feel okay about making the shift from following to leading.
Whatever the reason, shared leadership and engagement go hand-in-hand. Organizations that fail to grasp that notion will continue to be stuck in a paradigm that limits the potential for the leader in everyone to blossom and benefit their organizations – and themselves.
Oh … in case you’re wondering, Courtney won the crown (see pics below) – and we’ll be heading to California for the national pageant over Thanksgiving. I don’t know what kinds of questions the judges will throw at her this time, but I’m pretty sure she’ll be ready for whatever comes her way.
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