I'm currently working on a certification in Restorative Justice from Vermont Law School. This session's class is Communications, Advocacy and Leadership. Last week's discussion post asked us to define our leadership style. Here is what I wrote:
I was a Girl Scout Leader for 13 years. I took my youngest daughter’s troop from Kindergarten to High School Graduation. Yet, I was not a Girl Scout as a child. My mother, who had done the Girl Scout “thing” as she called it with my two older sisters, who are 9 and 10 years older than me, did not want to do it all again. I got that a lot growing up. “I did all that with your sisters. I don’t have the energy to do it with you.” My mother was 42 when I was born, unexpectedly, and though I didn’t realize it until much later, was already starting to experience a decline in health. So, chaperoning field trips, and doing Girl Scouts, were all things she truly didn’t have the energy for. I mention all this because when my daughters came along one of the first things I intended to do differently was get them into scouting, be the homeroom mom, and everything that Mom wasn’t for me. I was “walking inside someone else’s story” (as Doug Conant says in his interview on Brene Brown’s podcast) in a very literal sense; even if it was through doing the opposite of what my mother had done.
I didn’t get them involved in Scouting thinking I would be their leader. Far from it, but life happened, and my older daughter’s troop needed new leaders, or it was going to fall apart. So, I agreed to co-lead it. Then, my younger daughter’s cohort wouldn’t have a troop unless someone stepped up, so I did. Voila, I found myself leading two troops simultaneously with no experience as a Girl Scout to draw upon. So, as per my academic bent, I went to every training I could. I found as the years progressed that I was getting as much out of the experience as my kids. In fact, by the time they were in middle/high school, I told them: You can stay or drop out of scouting, but I’m not going anywhere. I’m all in. By the time my youngest graduated high school, I was a leadership and First Aid trainer for the Council and was Service Unit Director for 5 years. Girl Scouts was the central focus, my primary job aside from being a mom, for over a decade.
I learned what Girl Scouts defined leadership as and took it to heart. In Girl Scouts, the goal is to take the leadership of the troop from adult-led to girl-led, transitioning as the girls age until, ultimately, as they enter high school, the scouts are calling all the shots and the adults are just there for safety purposes and to sign the checks. Defining leadership in scouting is also about differentiating between service and leadership. If something couldn’t or wouldn’t happen without you, then it’s leadership. A leader takes charge, assigns duties to others as needed and builds consensus. Service is something that anyone could perform and did not require that individual to be in a leadership role. In my case, this meant taking on the role of troop leader for my daughter’s troop. No one else was willing to step up to take on the role; without me, those girls would not have had a troop. Indeed, at one point I took on a non-related Daisy troop since none of the parents would step up, with the understanding that one of them would by the end of the year. I even merged other troops and took on stranded girls into my troop. At one point, I had scouts from a senior in high school to 6th graders, including both my daughters, all in one troop with a maximum size of 17. As my troop became the senior troop in our unit, they took on leadership and planning roles for Service Unit campouts and events. By the time Catherine graduated high school, our troop was down to just 3 girls, but I’d learned a great deal from my scouts past and present by that time. I used to joke that we had every color of the Pride rainbow in our troop, literally, as one of my scouts came out as transgender after graduation and transitioned in college. Their openness about LGBTQ issues opened my eyes and eventually drove me to activism.
In fact, it’s that scout who was brave enough to be his authentic self that brings me directly to where I am today. Without that interest and drive to understand his experience, I would not have discovered the injustices he faced nor been able to place a human face on them. When the bathroom bills came up in the Texas legislature, I felt compelled to stand up for him and everyone like him. I waited over 10 hours twice to give my 2 minutes of testimony to the Senate panel. From that experience, I met some truly inspiring people and waved the paltry flame of political interest into the fire that drove me to run for office as Justice of the Peace.
I hadn’t realized until I sat down to write this that there is a remarkably straight line from deciding to be a girl scout leader in 1996 to run for office in 2018. 22 years of learning about leadership, speaking up for what I believed in, and finally listening to the tiny, quiet voice that whispered over that weekend in December 2017 “why the hell not”? The things I learned being a Girl Scout leader about standing up for what you believe in, and doing the right thing, are summed up in the Girl Scout Law and Promise:
I will do my best to be honest and fair,
friendly and helpful,
considerate and caring,
courageous and strong,
and responsible for what I say and do,
and to respect myself and others,
use resources wisely,
make the world a better place,
and be a sister to every Girl Scout.
On my honor, I will try:
To serve God and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law.
Those are not shallow words recited at a troop meeting or campout but a guiding light for me. It’s been a long time since I’ve read them, but they are still instilled on my heart. I use my role as Judge to uphold the law, both that of the state of Texas and Girl Scouts. The Girl Scout law is the foundation of my personal and judicial ethics – to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong. I respect myself by making no excuses for who I am – blue hair, tattoos, and all. I’m proud to be a Democrat in a Red/Purple State. Respecting authority for me is less about blindly accepting what the powers that be dole out as demanding that they, and myself, do better. It’s all there in the Law and Promise and I’m grateful for this opportunity to remember that truth.
I was impressed by much of what Drew Dudley said in “This is Day One” and plan on going through the exercises in the book. As I reflect on that book and what I’ve just written, I realize that the Girl Scout Law is a good starting place for me in defining my values. Dudley says, “Identifying those values is essential to understanding who you are and defining who you want to be”. At first, I focused on the “who you want to be” part and tried to find 3 values from the list given. I chose Class, Health, and Passion. Those represent things I want to be, especially Health and Class. As Dudley relates his weight loss journey, I found many similarities and personal concerns that resonated. Thus, health would be a value that defines who I want to be. Similarly, Class is something that defines who I want to be. Elevating others instead of escalating, which is all too often my go-to. Now, after the first part of this post, I realize I need to rethink my choices. Courage, Self-Respect, and Class are what I chose now. They reflect many of the same ideas in the first set but have a bit of broader use. They still represent who I want to be, but I’m reminded that in many ways they’ve been present all along. They may have been buried a bit in my effort to walk inside someone else’s story and behave in ways to fit in, but maybe all I needed was reminding. I’ve said for a long time that I am who I am, and I make no excuses for that. It’s what gave me the courage to keep my blue hair when I started my first campaign, despite being told by friends and acquaintances that it would be a detriment to my campaign. Indeed, I still get comments from naysayers (read Republicans on Facebook) that they can’t take me seriously or I’m not professional because of my blue hair. Stacey Abrams says, “we must name what scares us and acknowledge what scares those who are afraid of us”. Those naysayers who complain about my hair are afraid of what I represent. Being different is ok and their fear is on them. It’s to my advantage to be true to myself because it helps me stand out. I’m going to close with a few quotes from Chad Sanders, “My life is an adventure and I need to embrace my role as an adventurer” and “Don’t believe everything you think”. They both represent courage and self-respect as well as a reminder not to be constrained by the roles and expectations of others. That’s my leadership style, as chaotic as it has been over the years. One I plan to hone with all the intentionality that I can muster. Every day.