The status ladder versus leadership

We as a society have created a very narrow definition of success – it’s all about status. In many parts of society, you are supposed to get high scores on your standardized test (CITO in the Netherlands; IQ tests), follow the highest possible secondary education, followed by a university degree from a renowned institute, then work for a renowned company or organization and continue the path to reach the highest position in this hierarchy. Every group in society has it’s own status ladder – when you live on the streets, being member of a certain gang may give the highest status. Often, status is related to material possessions, such as the latest smartphones, a cool car, the right brand of clothes or a large house. In this article however I’m talking about status related to what people do in life – usually work.

Every step away from the status ladder (lower scores on standardized tests, quitting a career with a renowned institute) is generally considered a failure by society. Very many people ultimately find themselves living a life which is not driven by themselves, by their own talents and motivations, but by some kind of ‘ideal image’ of success.

I have walked many steps on the status ladder – and worked hard to get up and up and up. With every step I took, I expected that ‘up there’, I would finally find more professional people and of course more recognition. It took me a while to realize that what I was really looking for is in fact true leadership. I even got access to the highest of the highest in leadership – the World Economic Forum in Davos. I was looking forward to this so intensely: finally, after all these years, I would be able to experience true leadership, all around me!

But I did not find what I was looking for. In fact, I was really disappointed.

I realized that “it” is not to be found ‘up there’ or ‘out there’, but in here. True leadership can be found when people use themselves as a tool to make things better – for themselves, for their families, or for society as a whole. I nowadays often find true leadership and value in people with much lower ‘status’, but who inspire me deeply – simply by how they live life and by how they use themselves as a tool to make things better.


Published by

Claire Boonstra

Claire Boonstra, founder of Operation Education - feeding the movement to revolutionize education. I have lived many different roles in life - as a student, engineer, corporate employee, wintersports-blogger, strategic marketing manager, mobile future event organizer, augmented reality startup co-founder and now an education reformer and public speaker. But I am also a mother of three young children, a daughter, wife, sister, utopist dreamer, asker of difficult questions, visionary, improv dancer, skier, former glider pilot – and most of all a human being in search of how I can best balance my three main priorities in life: my family, my personal wellbeing and my mission to feed the movement to revolutionize education.

3 thoughts on “The status ladder versus leadership”

  1. I recognize this. I was always looking up to people with a higher status and I thought they were the leaders. Through the years I found out that a lot of people disappoint me in this. A true leader isn’t always a person with a certain status. It’s a person who cares about others and who’s willing to make things better in this world. I met some true leaders while I was travelling. People who made a change. Women and men who started different community projects, just to make things better. Those people are born leaders, but they don’t see themselves as leaders. They just want to make things betters in this world..

  2. I am so interested in learning to do and “to do” research in the field of education that I decided to enroll in a PhD program, and I am still looking for it. I am absolutely NOT interested in NO TITLE of Dr. or PhD xxx, I am only interested in learning the skills and learn them well. I do believe that the place to do that is the university, because of its genuine goal of generation and producing knowledge. I think that what is wrong is pursuing not the skill but the TITLE, so to say, the STATUS that this could give you. But for that life is very wise…if you are not passionate of what you do and genuine with your intentions, you will never be good at what you do and in doing so, being a real leader is impossible. People only can make a difference in life if they are really IN LOVE with what they do and that is what opens the door to make a difference. I will join you in Utrecht Claire, I will join your idea and see if I can help some how to make a little change in education. I LOVE education and I am in love with all what it means.

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