Foster care and abuse taught me a lot about leadership, selfishness, and wellness. / by Dr. Tyrone Ceaser

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Many people discuss the idea of Intentional leadership. That is very important. But, what about unintentional leadership? What about the times where you’re forced into a situation, unrelated to your career or business? Do you expect the qualities you exhibit in intentional leadership to show forth when you have to illustrate your leadership to protect something or someone at an inopportune time?

Here’s an alternative way of thinking about leadership:

For a long time, I was silent about my experiences in foster care or going through the foster care system. It was too many memories of too many painful situations. After I realized I was being selfish and in many ways, simply ‘let go’ of the entire experience, I begin to open up and tell others of my experiences. Little did I know, my story has actually helped others get through the same process, and get through similar situations. Adoption taught me a lot about two things in particular: leadership and perseverance.

As children in the foster care system, my brothers and I weren’t treated any different from most of the kids in stories you hear of from those who were in foster care. I had 3 biological brothers. Now, I have 2. And during foster care, we were split up and placed into different homes.

We hated that.

I’m the oldest. While separated, we each had our individual experiences, and I’ll never grasp some of the horrific things my brothers experienced during our separation. But during the time we were separated, I knew, however, that I absolutely HAD to protect the 1 brother I could while split up. Some call it animal nature. I call it love (This is also why it’s important for you to be passionate about anything in which you invest time and evergy). And I sure didn’t plan on having to do this. Hell, I was only 10 years old.

Regardless, I made absolutely sure that nothing happened to him that I didn’t know about. I made sure that if he suffered, I suffered alongside him. Whenever he was stuffed in a closet and forced to eat bread and drink vinegar all week, I was there with him. Am I, or was I at any point a saint because of doing these things? Absolutely not.

But what I noticed at the time, and what I knew was required of me, was unintentional leadership and endurance. As I saw the situation, if I displayed weakness, then my brother’s life and well-being was threatened that much more. Did I have my times when I was weak? Absolutely (though I never let him see me like that). But, did I ever quit? Did he ever know? Absolutely not.

Absolutely not.

As a leader, intentional or unintentional, there will be countless times when you are forced into a situation, and you have to respond without just cause and/or preparation. In some cases, you have to react. In those cases, there better be something innate within you, that allows you to react in a wise manner. It’s not always what you choose to do or the outcomes you expected. But what you absolutely cannot do is quit, stop trying, and even in some cases — display weakness. These qualities can quickly falsify your claim as a leader.

If adoption taught me anything, it taught me that I have a ‘quiet’ strength, and when I need to call on it, the story I just shared with you always comes to the forefront of my mind. I would never claim to be a master in the art of leadership. There are others out there however, that also give great insight into leadership and can give additional advice and wisdom. I am sure to tell my college students about the infinite wisdom existing among those who seek to be better.

But, to give you an idea of what WE overcame:

1. Some of us were stuffed in a closet, at least twice a week and were forced to eat bread and drink vinegar all week.

2. Some of us endured near-death experiences (drowning).

3. Some of us were physically abused.

4. All of us were mentally abused.

What am I saying?

I am simply saying that you can take as many classes as you want. You can listen to the best and the brightest podcasts and TED talks. You can read as many books on leadership as you can fathom. But — when push comes to shove — when your back is against a bed of nails, you must know how to get up without harming yourself. One wrong move, and you’re bleeding. And your reaction has to be something that’s innate and hardwired within you.

Otherwise, you’re intentionally hurt.