NaBloPoMo 2018: What I’m Learning
When did you first notice you were led well? Who was it, what was the circumstance?
I was in 7th grade math class. The teacher was Joe Alt. I met him 33 years ago, when I was 12, and I still consider him one of my greatest and most important mentors. He could teach anything and make it interesting, and we learned not only math and science, but how to be good people. In a class that included both uber-nerd me and ultra-headbanger dude, he helped us both to see each other as people and get along so we could all learn.
Later I would find leadership role models in my athletic coaches, professors, program directors, committee colleagues, and hospital administrators. At their best, these people were/are:
- Intrinsically Motivated
- Actively Engaged
I have also studied on my own, seeking guidance from sources like Benjamin and Rosamund Stone Zander, Simon Sinek, Brené Brown, Daniel Goleman, Chip and Dan Heath, Rachel Naomi Remen, The Harvard Business Review, most recently Anthony Suchman, and, soon again, Marcus Aurelius. I’m always looking for the next new or old related idea, the next dot to connect in order to draw my leadership map with more depth and detail.
Recently I asked a new mentor what books he likes to read about leadership, organizations, etc. He said he reads some, but prefers to simply do, always learning, adapting, applying, and evolving along the way. I have had small leadership roles at school and work, in my professional society, as well as in my community, over the years. They have all given me tremendous opportunities to practice what I read. More and more, I see the value in getting my nose out of the books, looking up, and stepping forward.
I spoke with a high school freshman athlete recently. She plays two sports, both teams comprised of both upper and lower class(wo)men. She contrasted the coaches’ personalities and styles, and how she learns about the respective sports as well as teamwork, integrity, etc. We noted how much better it feels when the coach knows you personally, and pays attention to your state of mind as well as your performance. The team with the less attuned coach will soon choose a captain for next year. It’s usually a senior, perhaps regardless of leadership skill or potential. She described the various candidates to me, and why she thought they would be good captains (or not).
I asked her whether the team feels like a true team, or more like just a group of individuals. She said right now, it’s the latter. I asked how she would show up if one of the less desirable candidates were named captain. She had not really thought about it other than to continue working on her own sports skills. I then found myself offering copious unsolicited advice:
You have a few choices, I told her. First, you could remain an individual, holding your own goals as primary. You may or may not improve, your team may or may not do well, and your personal contribution to the success of the whole will be proportional to your own individual performance. Second, as you progress in your skills and newer kids join the team, you can help teach and mentor them. You could observe the new captain, identify her weaknesses. If possible, and if you’re so inclined, you can fill in the gaps for the team—lead from within the pack. You could help build morale, create a true team from its inside, cultivate relationships that will make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. You could set your sights higher than your own personal achievement and really help the team succeed. Third, you could take it to the next level by cultivating an advisory relationship with the captain herself. If you have her trust, and exercise tact, you could help her see and maximize her strengths, navigate around her weaknesses—you can ‘coach up.’
The latter choices are, obviously, harder and more labor intensive. I would also argue that they would make membership on the team exponentially more meaningful for everybody. By serving as a connector among teammates (with boundaries, realistic expectations, and self-care, of course), this young athlete could make connectors of her teammates, too. And a few years from now, if she herself is tapped to lead, she will have already earned her peers’ respect. They’ll follow out of course; it will feel only natural. And, they may then already be the cohesive team that she really wants to serve as leader.
These ideas poured forth in a torrent of consciousness, forming sentences before I could actually think them. As happens so often, I found myself saying words, advising someone else, that I myself needed to hear at exactly that moment. Most of the time it’s about eating, sleep, or exercise. This was an A-ha! moment on my personal leadership journey.
Now I see the true meaning behind the phrase, “See one, do one, teach one.” It’s not about becoming a teacher. It’s about always remaining a student, because the best way to truly understand anything is to try teaching it.
See, do, teach. It’s not linear. It is, no question, completely cyclic.