Sweet Leadership Moments
How many of you are comfortable being called a leader? I have asked this question of almost everyone I've met since I completed my dissertation on transformational leadership and change. And although not part of this discussion today, transformational leadership is an interesting style of leadership that transforms the leader and their direct reports in the process…it is a higher order style of leadership and largely relationship driven.
The reason I ask this question, it that I believe organizations need leaders throughout all levels of the organization. And yet, the literature and many organizational leaders have made this thing leadership into something that is bigger than us; something to be held at arms’ length. Something beyond the average individual. Leadership has been made about changing the world.
We often take this title of leadership as something we will one day deserve. We think it makes us arrogant and cocky to think of ourselves as leaders. We celebrate amazing things that hardly anyone can do all the time and we undervalue things that we, ourselves, make happen every day. Let’s talk about times when we step up to volunteer our leadership or lead others but fail to take credit or doubt if we deserve credit.
This reminds me of a story. See if any of you have similar stories that you can share. I went to a very small private college in Texas and as a dorm administrator, I volunteered for the freshman onboarding and orientation working to make sure the new freshman class (and their parents) were comfortable with what would inevitably be the next step when the suitcases, clothes, and miscellaneous stuff were all moved into the dorm and the parents must now leave. There was a new freshman, Jenna, who was pretty sure that this was not going to be her next step…she was not ready to leave home and go to college. Her parents were really supportive and said, “Jenna, just try it. We love you and if you need us to come back and get you and you want to quit and come home…we will still love you and we will do whatever you want.” Up I step…carrying a bucket of candy and handing them to everyone as I greeted and welcomed each new freshman. I stepped up to Jenna and gave several guys in front of her handfuls of candy and asked them to hand it to Jenna and introduce themselves. Several of them turned red and then awkwardly handed the candy to Jenna and introduced themselves just like I asked them to do. As soon as Jenna took the candy, I admonished her parents to allowing her to take candy from strangers…that got 20-30 people standing in line laughing and cutting up (but then again, they weren't really strangers any longer because there had been introductions made). In the meantime, I slipped a card with my name and dorm phone number on it into Jenna’s hand when no one was looking. Three years later as I prepared for graduation, Jenna came up and relayed this story thanking me in the process…I was the reason she stayed. She did find a family at our small school and she was going to be a senior the following year and proclaimed that I was the reason. I didn’t remember this incident although I did come to know Jenna quite well over the three years that we were in college together. All it took was a handful of candy to create a sweet leadership moment.
I believe that everyone including each of you reading this have had a sweet leadership moment or two…maybe even more. Maybe like me you don’t quite remember it.
As long as we make leadership out to be about changing the world we give ourselves an excuse to not to expect more from ourselves. Marianne Williamson, is a spiritual leader and lecturer, in her book a Return to Love, she said, that “our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, a leader, and fabulous? The real significant question is, who are you not to be? Playing small does not serve you or the world. We are all meant to shine, as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in all of us…everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.“
The call to action today is to get over the leaders-need-to-change-the-world notion. Know that you are, as Marianne Williamson said, powerful beyond measure. You need to get over the change-the-world-notion so that you can get beyond it and identify the sweet leadership moments that you have no doubt played a role in.
You need to value the impact that you can have on each other’s lives. These sweet leadership moments mean more than money, power, title, and influence. We all need to make life about sweet leadership moments – how we create them, how we pay them forward, and how many we say thank you that acknowledges others impact on us.
This is a simple and very small idea. Leadership is achieved in small but measurable ways that make a big difference over time. The action for each of you is to get comfortable being called a leader and know that leadership is meant for everyone not consecutively, not just for when you have direct reports,but collectively, leading without authority, and leveraging more sweet leadership moments with others in order to have a profound leadership impact.