I was teaching the fundamental state of leadership to a group from a Fortune 10 company. One woman seemed to be paying deep attention. She later asked if she could have lunch with me. During the meal she told a fascinating story.
She had had several major life setbacks. As a result she had to pursue her professional career while raising children from two families. She has done this as a single mother. Although she presented herself with genuine humility, I sensed a great deal of quiet strength.
She told me she is a natural introvert who shies away from the limelight. This seeming weakness has led her to develop a curious asset. She builds highly collaborative and productive teams that allow her to “lead from the back.” Because her teams deliver, she is seen as a high potential leader.
As she listened to my presentation she began wondering about her future. To progress further did she need to thrust herself into the limelight? This is the question we explored at lunch.
The next morning she sent me a message. She wrote that some things had become clear. First, she concluded that did not need to “be in front” and to “lift her head above the rest.” She instead wanted to live for the “greater good.” Second she had written a personal life mission: “I want to lead by example and demonstrate, through positive leadership, that magic can happen.”
This may sound like a small thing. I think that writing that sentence represents a moment of great significance. Seemingly under pressure to seek the limelight, she has stated a purpose that frees her from having to do so. It is a sentence around which she can organize her life. Few executives ever commit themselves to the common good, free themselves from the need for recognition, and commit to building positive organizations. She was doing all these things. In writing her purpose she was turning her job into a calling and her career into a journey of self-actualization.
I am reminded of a statement from Picasso; “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” She is committing to do both.
Have I ever turned a seeming weakness into a personal asset?
Have I ever clarified my professional life mission?
How could we use this passage to turn our organization more positive?