Becoming a transformational leader is a change process. Each year I teach an MBA course on this topic. My intent is not to instruct the students. My purpose is to lead them through to process of change. This means I must become a leader rather than an instructor.
We meet all day for five Saturdays. The syllabus is long, carefully written, and signals many of the ways this class is unique. The students are asked to read the syllabus carefully before coming to the first class. The first thing I do is pose a question. “How will you be different at the end of the semester?”
Typically there is a long pause, and then the answers—meaningful answers—start to flow. I ask related questions and the students begin to open up. A student, for example, spoke about spending his life trying to measure up to his brother. It was a very authentic moment, and I called attention to that authenticity.
Others, too, recognized the power in his words. As the day went on, the collective authenticity increased: I could already see people making sense of their lives and changing in real time. At the end of the day, a couple of students approached me. They both told intimate stories of confused life direction and asked if they could make an appointment to talk privately.
As I drove home, I felt a sense of awe. I was helping my students make sense of their lives, and doing that makes sense of my life. As I pondered this thought, another thought came to me. When I am teaching with the intent to change lives, I transcend my own ego.
During the period of teaching, I am intensely focused on what the students are saying, what their needs are, and how I can minister to those needs. It is an act of selflessness. Because I am filled with love, the room is filled with love. Because it is, change can happen, even in a university classroom.
I am reminded of a movie called Freedom Writers. It is about a teacher named Erin Gruwell. She enters an impoverished school and eventually learns how to connect with her students. She reaches extraordinary levels of performance, and her students change. At one point, she reflects on her teaching and she says, “I finally realized what I’m supposed to be doing, and I love it. When I’m helping these kids make sense of their lives, everything about my life makes sense to me. How often does a person get that?”
As someone learns to teach or lead in a transformational way, the activity becomes self-reinforcing. In helping others transform we become increasing clear about who we are and why we are on the earth. We engage our work with love, we increasingly experience success and we hunger to get even better.
When have I seen love bring change?
When does my life make most sense to me?
How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?