My 17-year-old son likes to wear a T-shirt that reads “everyday hero.” Many people aspire to be leaders, and we usually aspire to be the kind of leader exemplified by their heroes. As a missions executive, my hero is Betsy Stockton, the first single Protestant female missionary from America. She was an African American born a slave, who aspired to be a missionary at a time when it was socially impossible. Finally in 1823, the American Board agreed to send her to Maui if she went as a domestic helper. In Maui, she established the first indigenous school and raised up local teachers who took over the school after her. She was a leader who raised up other leaders. The greatest kind of leader is “less of a hero and more of a hero maker” (Michael Ba Banutu-Gomez). Leaders transform ordinary people into exemplary heroes—leaders are hero-makers.
Even my once shy son now aspires to be a “world-changer” who shapes his generation with truth. He recently stunned my husband and me by delivering an extemporaneous homily in his high school, challenging his school to be world-changers. I heard an audible gasp from the faculty section, as the whole student body stood up to commit themselves to be world-changers. My son is becoming a hero maker.
Whether my son turns out to be a hero or a hero maker depends on how we’ve communicated leadership through our lifestyle. Do we as leaders model the way? Over the past eight years, many missionaries have dined in our home, sharing stories of victories and hardships, from Zambia to Nepal, from the Middle East to unreached tribal groups. Why am I now so shocked that my son personally confronts his friends to “envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities?” Why am I now surprised that I have inspired a shared vision in him to change the world instead of choosing teenage conformity?
As stunned as my husband and I are, we have responded, “Of course you will be a world changer. Let’s discuss what next steps to take.” Leadership experts, James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner state that: “Recognition is the most powerful currency you have, and it costs you nothing.” Do we encourage the heart of our everyday heroes by conveying recognition, affirmation, and acknowledgement?
One Sunday, before I was to speak at a church on missions, I said to my son, “If you are going to be a world changer, you should start now.” I offered for him to speak the first 15 minutes of my hour. Admittedly nervous, he was warmly received by an audience surprised that a 17-year-old was sharing. Enabling others to act creates opportunities for everyday heroes to arise. “When you strengthen others by increasing self-determination and developing competence, they are more likely to give it their all and exceed their own expectation” (Kouzes & Posner).
I never initiate discussions on women in leadership. But just by being one, I’ve challenged the process. I have communicated by my risk-taking choices that “you need to search for opportunities by seizing the initiative and by looking outward for innovative ways to improve” (Kouzes & Posner). Yet, why was I so edgy when my son delivered a letter to his school faculty with detailed recommended improvements? To “speak up” truthfully is risky.
To raise up everyday heroes at home, at work, and in the community, we as leaders must:
- Communicate by modeling the way.
- Inspire a shared vision.
- Encourage the heart.
- Enable others to act.
- Leaders must impart a fearless courage to our everyday heroes to make a difference — even if they have to challenge the process.
The question to ask ourselves is: are we transformational leaders who raise up every day heroes? Are we hero makers?