Past participants in programs on positive leadership sometimes write with an account of how they are changing their lives. These accounts are invaluable because they illustrate the integration of principles and action. In this case, a woman spoke of how she has grown as a wife at home and how she now operates differently as an executive at work. Her account is remarkable. She begins with a story about learning to be her best self, deciding to keep a gratitude journal, and establishing a closer relationship with her husband. She then goes on to share a remarkable story at work.
I decided to capture in a small book the things that I took away from the priest’s homily every weekend. We go to church as a family, and as busy as life is I admit there are times when my brain is elsewhere. Knowing that I wanted to capture the essence of the homily was certainly a good way to stay focused! I did this on my own, without telling my family, and then wrapped the little book up. I gave it to my husband at Christmas. It was right before our 20th anniversary in January, and seemed a good way to give him a unique part of myself. This was how I had interpreted/felt/been moved by the same words he had heard. He really loved it, saying it gave him insight into me in a new way. We are close, but this made us even closer.
In this case, she exercises the discipline to better know her best, unfolding self. She then gives her unique self to her husband. This act of vulnerability increases trust and learning and their relationship is enriched. It is a tender story. Yet of what value is her story to those of us who must work in challenging organizational settings “in the real world?” The rest of her account, provides an answer:
Since I knew the instructor she asked me to come in and speak. I had an hour and the topic was really wide open – share my leadership style and any unique insights I had about leadership. An added wrinkle was that I was speaking on Halloween, and our office had an Open House where we were in costume….
In the olden days, I would have been too embarrassed to show up as a medieval maiden in a long, flowing gown and headpiece. Now, though, I embraced it and told the class that my goal was for them to remember how I made them feel, not every word I said or what I looked like. My subconscious goal was to exude leadership out of every pore, not give them a list of “to-do'” that would make them better leaders.
I took to heart your admonition to be vulnerable, and how powerful that is. I went through my leadership roles throughout my career, stressing how as a military officer you were expected to be tough, have the answers, and not show weakness. As a civilian, though, my style had to adapt.
In my case, I was forced to show what I previously would have called weakness when I got breast cancer. I was a in a senior position with people depending on me, and I was sick. Worse yet, weekly chemo for 4 months left me bald and funny looking. I say all this to explain that I shared it with them, and went one better. I had a picture on a slide of me…bald… And I told them how it was the best thing ever – it made me empathetic, not just sympathetic. It let others step up and fill the void. People don’t want to follow a leader who is perfect, they want one who is human. It gives them permission to be human and have faults as well.
I also talked about the growing research that we and others are doing in organizational justice. Bad leaders can have such a devastating impact on an organization they can, potentially, create employees who at best are disengaged or at worst become spies, leakers, commit workplace violence, etc. That seemed like a new notion to the class – that there would be such extreme ramifications of bad leadership. We are working with a researcher… and the results clearly show that in organizations that lack certain types of justice that can lead to all sorts of problems.
My parting words to the class were to be authentic in their leadership style. Mine has clearly evolved over time, and classes like the week in Michigan have certainly helped.
This woman is growing. She has now internalized the principles of positive leadership. In doing so, she has not lost her understanding to the conventional hierarchy. She knows how to meet expectations. What makes her unique is she now knows how to violate those expectations in a positive way. She is “exuding leadership from every pore.” Does it make a difference?
She closes her account with a list of some of the statements that were sent to her from members of the class.
- “Thank you for your candor and courage to be honest and vulnerable. It is an inspiration for us all.”
- “You affected my leadership philosophy. Thanks for your inspiration.”
- “Thank you for opening up to us.”
- “I’ve recommended you for our leadership speaker series. Would love to work for you.”
- “Thank you for sharing your story.”
- “Thank you for the wonderful discussion. I’ll never forget that amazing costume!”
- Who in your organization “exudes leadership out of every pore?”
- Who gives you “permission to be human and have faults as well?”
- What could you do right now to make a difference?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?