Driving to an appointment the other day, I went to make a right turn and couldn’t help but notice the people in each of the cars lined up waiting to turn left. One woman had a forlorn expression, and her head drooped over her steering wheel. The woman in the car behind her revealed a smile and an upward glance that seemed full of joy and anticipation. The face of the man in the car behind her was twisted up and his shoulders appeared to be close to his ears. His eyes were locked onto his blackberry, which he held in his free hand.
I smiled as I realized that I could relate to each of these people. I could have been any of them at any given time. And then the thought occurred to me that I could be any one of them as the day progressed. Which would I choose? The answer to that question could very well determine the quality of my entire day, and could also quite likely impact the quality of the day of those around me as well.
Every once in a while when I go out running I see a little old man riding a beach cruiser. In the dawn hours, as the sun begins to rise above the horizon, the light on his handlebars shines brightly. He is kind of a round man with short, fuzzy white hair and bright blue eyes. He pedals his bicycle so slowly that it is a wonder they both don’t just fall over. But what is most striking about him is that he is always smiling.
Every time I see this man, rain or shine, it seems he has something to be happy about. And his smile isn’t just the polite grin that people often flash as they enter each other’s space. It is the kind that comes from a deep satisfaction and wonderment with life. The little light on his bicycle shines brightly at the crack of dawn, but the radiance around him is even more vibrant. I find myself hoping to see him on my morning runs and experiencing a wave of joy and delight every time I do – feeling lighter and happier just for the experience of having crossed his path. His presence alone is truly inspiring.
I think emanating a positive presence is one of the most crucial things leaders can do for people. And to have this kind of influence and effect on others, you don’t have to have a fancy title, a bunch of people reporting to you, or even be a part of an organization at all. People pick up, consciously and subconsciously on the energy we emanate – and for better or worse, those we spend a lot of time around will often align themselves with it. True leaders – in any setting or vocation – are consciously aware of the tone they set through their own presence. They use it to uplift and inspire others, seeing the brilliance of everyone and everything around them and always reflecting it back.
I wonder whether that little man on the beach cruiser has any idea of how profoundly he has affected me. And I wonder if you realize the effect you can have on the lives of everyone around you as well… maybe without even having to say a word.
“We can do more good by being good, than in any other way.”
~ Rowland Hill
Implications for Real Leaders
The Real Leader Revolution is bringing to a head the need for businesses to better tap the power and potential that exists within the people who are the lifeblood of their organizations. This energy, when properly catalyzed and harnessed, will create the kind of value that earns loyal customers, increased market share and strong, sustainable profitability.
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As an executive coach, I work with leaders in both large and small organizations – who are passionate about creating inspired workplaces.
They want to break the unspoken, unwritten rules of organizations that say…
- …that the version of yourself you bring to work is different than who you are at home.
- …that work is a place where you do what your boss says and don’t ask a lot of questions.
- …that you have to suck it up when what you are tasked to do doesn’t jive with who you are.
- …that you have to keep your head down and just make it through the day, the week, the month, the year and collect your paycheck regularly enough to feed your family and make ends meet.
These leaders inspire me.
They have come to a place where they know there has to be more to life than just going through the motions, getting through the day, doing what’s required, going home and turning on the TV until the next day comes. They want more for themselves and they want more for their people.
Some of them are in organizations with traditional structures and old paradigms.
Not intentionally designed to limit people, but born of cultures that despite the latest management trends and empowerment classes on possibility thinking and shared vision still reward command and control, lead to power plays and foster the idea that if you don’t watch your back you could get stabbed.
One of my clients was discouraged by his boss from getting too close to his subordinates.
He was told doing so could cause him to lose his “edge” with them. He was told he may not be viewed as a leader if his people know too much about him and see him as a real person with fears and dreams and idiosyncrasies and humor.
But he knows that kind of leadership won’t unlock the potential in his organization. He knows that won’t light people up. He knows that won’t foster trust. He knows that isn’t what makes people go the extra mile when they are already tired and beaten. And he’s sick of playing that game.
So he’s trying something new. He’s sharing more of himself. More of his vision. More of his hopes and concerns and experiences for better or worse. He is encouraging dialogue. He’s asking what people think and sticking around long enough to hear (and really listen to) what they have to say. He is helping them find ways to breathe life into their greatest ideas and visions. And he is learning to get out of the way and trade the illusion of control for embracing possibilities that lead people (including himself) to enter into and navigate through uncertainty.
Another client is getting ready to engage his leadership team in ways that they aren’t used to.
He wants to roll out a whole new paradigm of doing things. And he is quite aware that words like “increasing shareholder value,” “fostering excellence” and “exceeding customer expectations” – while good concepts, tend to make people’s eyes glaze over and dismiss what is being said as the latest corporate speak, rah rah, Dilbert like rant.
He realizes that he needs to get very clear about what he sees as possible for his organization and all the people in it. He needs to be able to distinguish what they are moving away from and moving toward and find out what they think is important and what it will take to get them there.
He wants to encourage dissention and constructive disagreement. He knows that if they don’t voice their concerns and questions and hesitations to him, they will do it with each other in a way that could invoke fear and resistance and squash the seeds of possibility as they begin to germinate and grow. He knows that a silent room doesn’t mean everyone agrees. He has the courage to delve underneath the surface to find out what’s really going on – even, and perhaps especially if it means they don’t agree with anything he is saying.
A third client heads up an organization already known as the very best at what they do.
They have customers lining up at the door. They have been recognized in their community as the go to for what they do. They are well respected in their industry. And yet, they are burned out. They are overwhelmed and just trying to make it through the day. Things fall through the cracks. Important details get overlooked.
And my client has run around fixing things as they break, preventing undesirable consequences and instituting practices that keep the organization profitable, efficient and effective. But his partners haven’t embraced them – in fact, in some cases they even harbor resentment. He knows he cannot create an inspired workplace singlehandedly. But he realizes his partners aren’t inspired – and that no amount of talking at them will get them there. So he is slowing down and beginning to have authentic conversations with each of them.
He wants to connect with them as people, to see what they believe in, what they are passionate about, what they want to create together, and what they think needs to be done to make it fly. He is opening himself up to their criticism, their doubts, their worries and also hoping to hear about their dreams. He doesn’t know if it is going to work. He isn’t sure how to begin these conversations, or whether people will really engage with him. But he is willing to do it anyway.
This is the essence of true leadership.
Some call it conscious leadership. It is the ability to authentically engage with people in the workplace in a way that promotes shared value, meaning and purpose and leads them to work together in service to something greater than themselves. It requires courage, patience, faith, trust, intuition, and self awareness.
And I salute them.
Creating an inspired workplace and exercising conscious leadership is something that doesn’t happen overnight. If you are interested learning about approaches and strategies for building an engaged, enthusiastic work culture that leads to high performance without burning people out in the process (starting with yourself), check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Registration for the fall program is now open. Enroll by 9/1 to take advantage of the early bird discount!
Some of the most memorable performances I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy have been Springsteen concerts. The boss. I’ve stood in the sold out stadiums before the show started along with thousands of other people waiting eagerly for the music – and the magic – to begin.
And Springsteen really does create magic. In a matter of minutes, he seems to effortlessly transform the entire building and everyone in it into a kind of portal that vibrates with possibility, energy, and spirit. Throughout the rest of the evening, he takes his audience right into the music with him and allows everyone to become a part of it. I have never left a Springsteen concert feeling anything less than incredibly inspired and somehow renewed – as though some part of me I didn’t even know I had woke up while I was there and begged to be released into the world.
The last time I saw Bruce in concert I was musing over the fact that he, like all of us, has at one time or another most likely ordered a hamburger at a fast food joint or stood in line at the grocery store. And I reveled over what it would be like to be standing there behind him – perhaps before he recognized his own inner genius and believed in it enough to write and record the music that would inspire others to give life to their own.
Would I know that I was standing in the presence of greatness? Could I somehow feel it? Or would I move through the rest of my day unaware of how close I’d come to magic?
And then I began to wonder about the people I actually do stand in line behind in the grocery store these days. Who’s to say that one of them isn’t destined to touch the lives and transform the worlds of many as well with their own unique talents and passions?
In December of 2007, the Washington Post persuaded Joshua Bell, one of the finest classical musicians in the world to be part of a social experiment. On a cold January morning, this internationally acclaimed virtuoso stood leaning against a wall next to a trash can in a Washington DC metro station with a baseball hat on his head playing some of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth over $3 million dollars.
Over the course of the forty five minutes that he played, a total of 1,097 people passed by this musician who only two days prior played a sold out theater in Boston’s Symphony Hall where the seats averaged $100. Only seven people stopped and stayed – most of them only for a minute or two. Twenty seven gave money, mostly change, for a total of $32 and some cents. He ended each piece with no applause, no acknowledgement of his performance – or even his existence.
If people could be in the presence of someone like Joshua Bell while he was performing without stopping to appreciate and savor it for even a moment, perhaps it is also feasible that we are in the presence of greatness every day in some way – without even knowing. It could be in the person who serves you your morning coffee, the guy in the cubicle next to you, one of your own children. Maybe it could even be the person who stares back at you in the mirror.
Copyright Synchronistics Coaching & Consulting 2010. All rights reserved.
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