For a long time, I didn’t consider myself a “leader with a capital L.” You won’t typically find me taking charge in meetings, putting myself out there during events, or being credited as someone who built something from the ground up. My leadership philosophy is quite different: I lead from the middle. In other words, I focus on empowering my community to tell their story and do great work, and I see myself as a facilitator, connector, and moral builder.
I’m drawn to the opportunity to lift others as they climb through storytelling. I don’t just want to tell my own story – I want to empower others to tell their story unabashedly. As a writer and writing consultant, I take a collaborative approach to help people tell their stories in every context from their resume to a networking event. In every conversation, I invite people to advocate for themselves in the workplace, negotiate their pay, and encourage other professionals to celebrate their accomplishments. Interviews have enabled me to listen and share and appreciate the diverse perspective of community members ranging from first-generation college students to engineers who build the technology underpinning Microsoft’s 150,000 employees. These are the stories you might not hear about on an everyday basis, but I see an interview as a sacred space where someone can tell me who they are. My job is to be curious, ask questions, and validate their experience and vulnerability. Then, I help people use these insights and data to advocate for themselves in and out of work, and I merely facilitate their growth by listening and reflecting back on what I hear.
Although I’m not a leader in the traditional sense, I know that I draw strength from the stories of the ancestors, artists, and activists that came before me. I am a writer who creates stories that transport people to new places with vividness and vulnerability – and that’s no small thing. I used to ask myself: Who am I to call myself a leader when I only tell stories for a living? Do I really lead and empower others the same way my mentors empowered me? Over time I’ve come to accept that the answer is yes. I am that person, title or not. I feel the proudest of my work as a leader when people feel seen and validated through their own stories or in the pieces I write about others.
Leadership isn’t a title, position, or line item on a person’s resume. It’s a role that’s lived out. At the end of the day, my goal is to empower my community to tell their story unabashedly and show people the value of understanding the stories of those around them. Leaders inspire and transform. Whether you’re front and center leading the back or in the middle, both are necessary. How do you lead?
Aleenah Ansari (she/her) is a journalist at heart who works at the intersection of user experience (UX), tech, and storytelling. These days, she writes for Microsoft IT Showcase, a place where she stories about the technology used by 150,000 Microsoft employees worldwide. Her identity as a Pakistani woman empowers her to lift as she climbs and she hopes to inspire the next generation of designers, writers, and makers by making them feel represented in her work. Check out more of her work at www.aleenahansari.com or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.