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I dip my upper body to form an acute angle with my lap, unsticking my shirt from the sweat on my chest. My throat burns almost as if I had eaten an entire ghost pepper. I knew this was going to happen—I had run with my students yesterday as well.
For one hundred hours of volunteering every summer as a teacher in the outskirts of Beijing, I’m the one in charge. The other teachers just watched the students—I chose to run alongside them. “It’s so hot”, the other volunteers told me. “Why would you ever do that to yourself?” I asked them, “Why would you make your students run if you can’t even do it?” And so, I chose to run alongside them, because to me they were more than just students. We were a team, and if they could bear with something, then I would show them that I could too. I wanted to lead a group that respected and loved me, rather than one that feared me.
I always imagined leadership as someone above everyone else. I imagined speeches from a podium, and orders given by one to the many. I imagined presidents, army generals, and sometimes, even superheroes—all the things that I’d never be. Yet now, as a volunteer teacher, I was a leader too. Leadership isn’t standing up above everyone else—it’s helping everyone around you stand up with you. Leadership isn’t command—it’s influence. To me, a leader only exists in the minds and hearts of those who are inspired to follow.
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