The Unlikely Leader

Fresh out of University, I worked as a substitute teacher for 4 months. I would show up to the school with plenty of time (a couple of minutes max) to review the teacher’s plans for the day, and pray prepare accordingly. This particular day, I was filling in at a high school in a leadership class with a particularly bright and motivated group of 15 year olds. One thing they kept repeating throughout the lesson was that awareness was the first trait of leadership.

One thing they kept repeating throughout the lesson was that awareness was the first trait of leadership.




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I had never heard the word awareness attached to leadership before, but courtesy of Mark Tewksbury’s Great Traits program, this group was not only attaching it to leadership, but touting it as the first and most important step.

In the following weeks I pondered the importance of awareness and whether it truly is the leading trait of a great leader. It’s not necessarily the first trait of leadership that is spoken about, which is why it had me so unlikely leader. I began to see instances of awareness all around me; on a personal level, within a group or team, and on an organizational level as well.

I noticed people who saw a real need in the life of a friend and filled in seamlessly by offering a vehicle. I saw team captains pick out someone on their team who needed direction, and provide simple support. I saw organizations at the forefront of movements in their community, after noticing need around them.

These highly respected friends, captains, and organizations all took action that made a significant positive impact on those around them, but in each instance, it started with an awareness of the space around them.

After seeing this trait in others, I tried applying this to my own life. I took awareness to another, almost Sherlock Holmes-ian level. I remember once walking in a park one afternoon and seeing a lady walk out of the library; that’s when I tested my new vigour for hyper-awareness, see if you can follow...

She was about 26-30, wearing a blouse with a pencil skirt and sharp black glasses (a young professional). Her rapid gait (indicating she had to be somewhere) took her right out down the front steps to a 2004 Accent (not established enough to be making bank). She had a red imprint on the outside of her right calf (had been sitting for an extended period of time). I took in all my observations and concluded she was a young aspiring lawyer, who was just preparing for a big presentation with some heavy reading to impress the partners and gain a foothold in the industry. I had no choice but to yell, “You got this girl!!”

Too far? Maybe. I had recently watched the Saturday Morning TBS staple, Legally Blonde, and maybe that had an impact on my thinking, however I did notice that focusing on awareness was changing how I saw others around me.

Now we’ve all heard theories or mentalities that if we gear our focus, it will change our lives. Think of buzzwords like “loyalty”, “trust”, and “synergy” (had to). You know, things we need to exhibit in team settings or focus on to be our best selves. I’m going to throw a few more out at you... please don’t get angry.

How about “joy”, “peace”, and “selflessness”.

Those might sound familiar…

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Fast forward 6 months and I now have my own classroom in an elementary school, no more subbing. There is a daycare in the school with a bunch of boys that play basketball after school everyday. My hyper awareness leads me to the thought that there is probably a reason these kids need a daycare. Maybe these kids come from single-parent families, maybe they are lacking the interaction they need from adults after school, maybe these kids have a real need that I can fill. So I start playing basketball after school with this group and get to know them a little. I start to make some great connections and to be honest, I need the time to just unwind and de-stress myself as well.

One morning, before school, one of the daycare boys runs away, and the poor supervisor has no chance to catch this speedy little runaway. I slowly follow him down the street and use some teacher jedi mind tricks to woo him back to the school without a struggle. At this point I’m on cloud nine, I practically just saved a life. I have intervened in this troubled kid’s life and am acting like the father figure he never had.

I go to a staff function at my principal’s house later that night and that same runaway is there. Obviously surprised, I’m like “Hey man! What are you doing here?”

He responds with, “I live here.”

It was my boss’s son.

My boss and his wife, who are quite invested in and supportive of their children.

So I’m 0 for 2 on my awareness kick, but I continue to consider the effects of awareness all around me. I see organizations involved in setting up refugee families with a place to live, I see friends tutoring their neighbour’s kids twice a week for free. I see people putting together food hampers for families they recently discovered were living off bread and syrup (You’re a good person K.H.). I see people at a social event simply involving someone on the outside by physically and verbally welcoming them in to a conversation. All of these people/groups are not only serving their community, but they would also be considered influential leaders by many.

These are all instances of great leadership showing by-products of those wonderful buzzwords, “joy”, “peace”, and “selflessness”, but they all started with one thing:


When you are aware, you can’t help but exhibit joy, peace, and selflessness. When you are aware of a need, you can’t help but fill it. When you are aware of others, you can’t help but respond with empathy. Awareness starts with us, but quickly turns our inward focus into outward action.

When you are aware of a need, you can’t help but fill it. When you are aware of others, you can’t help but respond with empathy. Awareness starts with us, but quickly turns our inward focus into outward action.

I believe that awareness is integral to the future of City Collective. Awareness creates space to serve practically, love intentionally, and respond to need. We want each and every person to adopt and embrace a posture of awareness. And that’s why I think awareness stands out as a leadership trait; as more than just a buzzword. It is truly the first trait of a great leader, and should be the trait of any organization looking to be a leader in the community. What would happen in our workplaces, our families, and our neighbourhoods, if we become attuned to the needs of others around us? The emotional, relational, spiritual, and practical needs that we see everyday wouldn’t just be a sidebar in the busyness of our existence, but a catalyst for us to love our world with a love we have experienced in Jesus and community. Awareness is the first step we can take every day in loving with purpose.


So I want to challenge you to live with awareness… maybe not quite the Holmes-ian level of awareness I exhibited, but awareness that acknowledges everyone in the room. Awareness that asks open-ended questions and actively listens to the response. Awareness that brings a solution to a question that has not been asked yet. Let’s live with an awareness of the world around us and the neighbour beside us.

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A couple weeks ago, a lady pulled me aside during a late night at the school to tell me something. She said she really appreciated the time I spent with her grandson after school in daycare and that I’ve been the positive male mentor he hasn’t had since his father passed away.

Boom. Count it. 1 for 3.