The idea of being a leader has always haunted me. If I was one, did it mean that I was too loud or bossy? Instead of seeing this as a positive trait, I feared how people would perceive me.
At the same time, my father lauded the values of strength and leadership. In fact, some of his greatest work has been starting youth programs that encourage teenagers to work in teams and practice servant leadership. His example gave me some hope, but I never believed that I was worthy of leading others.
Being shy and socially awkward kept me from being in many roles that involved leadership. Shuffling around my homeschool group, staring at the cracks in the sidewalk, and mumbling out answers to questions in choir took enough of my strength. How could I possibly contribute anything worthwhile to anyone else?
Then there is the whole issue of mental illness. When we think of politicians or religious leaders with a mental health issue, we often judge them as unworthy of their position. What if they harm more than hurt? How will they be able to manage the stress? Will they be able make rational decisions that better the lives of those that they serve?
These questions are not necessarily bad. Having upstanding and trustworthy people in power who will be able to handle the job is important.
Yet, we must be careful not to judge everyone with mental illness as incompetent of all leadership roles. Abraham Lincoln hid his great depression, Winston Churchill struggled with bipolar disorder, and Princess Diana suffered from bulimia, post-partum depression and self-harm. Obviously people with such disorders can be wonderful leaders.
On the smaller scale, I have realized my ability to lead and aid groups of people. Currently, I am the Vice President of Public Relations for my Toastmasters club, president of one honor society at school and officer of another, student leader of a mental health awareness club, web editor for the university paper and lector at church. Perhaps more importantly, my leadership comes out when I try to care for and support those who are struggling with mental health issues similar to my own.
Looking at that list makes me wonder what happened to that mousey teenager. I have finally found my voice through recovery and am beginning to realize that I can be a leader. Sure, my depression and other illnesses might be a hindrance at times, but they can also be a benefit.
- Depression causes simple tasks of daily life to be harder and makes the path you are leading appear hopeless. However, it can bring a greater sense of empathy for those who follow you as well as appreciation for the little joys.
- Anxiety can make you freeze with fear. Yet, learning to process situations can lead to greater intuitiveness and better judgment for leading.
- Addictions use unhealthy coping skills which diminish your ability to lead. Recovery teaches you how to cope in a healthier manner than most people do.
Those are just a few examples of how mental illness can be a strength instead of just a barrier for leaders.
We should not fear leading simply because of a diagnosis. Everyone is called to lead in some manner whether it is parenting children, mentoring young couples, teaching yoga or overseeing employees.
Please try not to judge others simply because of a mental health problem. To those of you who have a disorder, take courage and be willing to be a leader. My mental illness does not take away from my ability to help others; it contributes to it.