As I prepare to travel to Columbus for ALIA (Authentic Leadership in Action), I find myself playing with the word “leader”.
Who are the leaders of the world? What do they look like? What makes them unique? What makes us want to follow them?
For a lot of us (especially for women), the word “leader” is a huge block. It feels like too much. Too bold. Too cocky. Too self-assured. Too “I don’t have my OWN shit together – how can I possibly lead other people?”
I’ve heard every excuse in the book. Heck – I’ve USED every excuse in the book. “I’m not smart enough. I don’t have enough knowledge in this subject area. I don’t know how to motivate people. I don’t have all the answers. I’m not confident enough. I don’t like having people depend on me. I don’t know how to fix my own problems – how can I possibly fix other people’s problems? I don’t want people to think I’m too big for my boots. I’m in too much pain.”
We let those limitations block us, because we’ve accepted the wrong paradigms for leadership. Ask any circle of people to name leaders in history or in their own lives, and they’ll talk about people like Nelson Mandela, Obama, Mother Teresa, or the executive director of the organization they work for.
Well no WONDER we get intimidated by the word leader if that’s our paradigm! Very few of us will ever be THAT kind of leader. The world only needs a few of those.
Until they’re coaxed, NOBODY in the room will mention the first grade teacher who opened the world of language for them, the guy who swept the floors in the gymnasium with a smile on his face and a kind word for everyone, the little girl in the playground who made sure everyone got a turn on the slide, the drummer in the high school band who wordlessly kept everyone on beat, or the waitress at the local coffee shop who listened to their stories and made them feel heard.
I’m on a personal mission to bust us all out of those old paradigms of leadership. I’m on a personal mission to make you see the leader in the janitor, the drummer, the waitress, and yourself.
Let’s ask ourselves some new questions.
What if the leader is the person who:
– asks the right questions, instead of knowing all the answers?
– remembers that play is the best way to learn?
– makes a lot of effort to make other people feel seen and heard?
– believes in the power of crayons and dance shoes?
– invites people to wander through possibilities instead of looking for the most direct path?
– creates a container where our feelings and ideas are safe?
– delights in the opportunities that arise out of mistakes?
– invites our bodies and souls to every gathering along with our brains?
– celebrates curiosity?
– believes that the collective wisdom in the room is greater than her own?
– intuitively understands when to say “stop” and “rest” and “walk away“.
– trusts that the most beautiful things often grow out of failure?
Sit with these questions, and then ask yourself “if I can hold this new paradigm, can I then call myself a leader?”
At ALIA, leaders of all shapes and sizes learn about leadership from jugglers, painters, aikido masters, dancers, jazz drummers, meditation teachers, dramatists, doodlers, floral arrangers, etc., etc. The incredible tribe of people who gather at ALIA believe that leadership lessons come from everywhere, and every person in the room holds some of the wisdom. It’s an awe-inspiring experience to sit in a large circle of paradigm-shifting leaders and know that your wisdom is welcome there.
Which piece of the wisdom do you bring to the circle? And what is stopping you from bringing it?
Note: If this new paradigm for leadership excites you, challenges you, or affirms you, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy How to Lead with your Paint Clothes on. The first learning circle has drawn together a fascinating group of people and I look forward to gathering the next one soon. (Dates to be announced.)