Leaders can’t have green lips.

I learned my first real leadership lesson in 5th grade.

The educators at Finland Elementary selected me to represent the school in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at another school close by.

It was a big deal, and I was so excited. My parents were excited, too, taking time off work to show support for their over-achieving daughter. The principal even promised to drive me there in her car.

I dressed up, trying to look like a grown-up, like my mom who I thought always looked so ready for business.

I forgot, however, that it was St. Patrick’s Day. I forgot to wear green.

When I arrived at school before the ceremony, the kids noticed, and desperation overcame my small stature. No kid likes getting pinched (what jerk created that rule anyway?).

A brilliant idea lifted my spirits.

I went to the bathroom, taking with me a bright green marker. It was in that small, poorly lit bathroom where I made a conscious decision to color my lips green.

Walking back into the classroom, I felt tremendous pride for outsmarting the cruel rule. I guess I’ve always been a trendsetter, because everyone wanted green lips or green hands or green nails.

With a grin, I showed my teacher, Miss O’Brien, thinking she would admire my creativity. I can still recall her horrified, disappointed expression. And it still makes my cheeks turn red.

Miss O’Brien hurriedly grabbed my hand and brought me outside for one of the most straight-up discussions of my life. To paraphrase, she told me that when one is chosen as a leader, it is because he or she is held in high regard. It’s because that person makes decisions which positively influences people. That person sets an example.

Miss O’Brien taught me that day that humility is a power. She taught me that being myself, the excited girl who wanted to dress to impress the audience, is what made me vibrant. She taught me leadership isn’t about fitting in, and that I don’t have to look stupid to stand out.