I tell a story during a keynote address I deliver about how anyone has the capability to affect change in their spheres of influence. Although many in the audience fail to see it at the time, but the story is being told from leader to leader (because we're all leaders!) This anecdote usually begins with me, a very shy child in second grade, playing underneath the monkey bars with a Transformers toy I snuck to school. Back then, I had a friend, pretty much my only friend, named Tobias who would spend recess playing in the dirt with me. Tobias was a Transformers fan as well and he too began sneaking toys out of the house so that we could play together.
One afternoon, I asked Tobias if he would be willing to trade one of my robots for his, so that we both could play with “new” toys at home. After some initial hesitation, he agreed. So began a few weeks of us having a grand time playing with Transformers underneath those rusty monkey bars during afternoon recess and individual, extended fun with each other’s borrowed robots at home in the evening.To my dismay one afternoon, Antoine, the class bully, came over to snoop about. I think it was obvious that Tobias and I were having too much of a good time with the robots we had been sneaking to school. We were terrified Antoine was going to kick our asses and take our toys. However, he shocked us both when he asked politely could he join us. You see, he too was a Transformers fan. As recess was breaking for the day, Antoine asked could he borrow our toys. In near unison, Tobias and I vehemently said no. He then offered to bring a Transformer to school the next day and trade one of his robots for one of mine. Feeling like I had no other choice but to acquiesce to this guy who could easily beat me senseless, I agreed. And what would you know? The next day, Antoine held true to his word and traded with me.
As the next several days passed, more boys from the class started to come hang out under those old monkey bars wanting to get in on the action of trading Transformers. Seeing an opportunity, I stepped up and said the first thing that popped into my head: “Let’s start a Transformers trading club, and I’ll keep track of stuff so we always know who has someone’s toy and when they should bring it back.”
It was such a novel idea that everyone quickly agreed, even though I knew inside I had no clue how I was going to manage this enterprise. But I did know one thing that spurred me on: if I could figure it out, I was personally going to get to play with more Transformers than I ever could buy on my own. Sure enough, it was a problem I would crack one evening with a pencil and a spiral bound notebook.
A band of poor second graders, led by this shy misfit, established an underground network of bartering Transformers for the duration of the school year, all the while never getting caught by the teacher. As I think back to that experience 30 years ago, I find myself reflecting on the famous quote from Vince Lombardi: “Leaders are made, they are not born.”
But what if Lombardi got it all wrong?
I believe we are all born as leaders, however, life circumstances happen along the way that dull the shine of our diamond, eventually buffing our inherent leadership qualities out of us. We used to play boundlessly, live boldly, not take no for an answer, persuade our friends and strangers to go along with hair-brained ideas like having a secret society of trading Transformers. As we grow and become more socialized through formal education and, for many us, indoctrinated in office politics as adults, we regress toward to the mean. Instead of living fully engaged lives at the front 10% of the bell curve, we often slog through our days with the other 80%ers jam packed in curve’s hump.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The leader in you never died – it has simply been lulled asleep by the middle mindset. Reawakening the slumbering giant that is the leader in you is possible by taking the time to honor yourself with five simple steps.
5 Steps to Transform from
Leader to Leader
Live Your Passion
Many of us are in the business of busyness. We fritter away at the daily grind doing all that we can to survive today so that we can do the same dance again tomorrow. However, it’s important to prioritize time to pursue your passion. I have a full-time day job and four children, but I will forgo sleep to do exactly what I’m doing right now – sharing my passion for developing leaders. When you live your passion, that authenticity shines through to others, who will more likely follow alongside you. You cannot be a leader without followers.
Have a Vision
OK, so you have passion now, and that’s all good, but passion is pointless without a destination in mind. Whether you are leading a team or simply leading yourself, you need to have a vision. Where is that golden horizon? Have you defined it yet? Without vision, there can be no victory.
A leader inspires vision. I believe that having a vision presupposes a certain level of enormity to it. A vision is aspirational and requires tenacity to achieve. Look for opportunities in your day-to-day to practice boldness – going several notches outside of your comfort zone. This is not about being brash, but rather a simple commitment to consistently push for the unobtainable. Victory goes to those who not only want it the most, but stay at it the longest.
As adults, we wear many hats daily. We are workers, parents, friends, managers, lifelong students. The list goes on ad infinitum. We often adapt our personalities to fit the roles we play. What happens over time is that we begin don a role so well, the characters that we exhibit can become the actors. Great leaders find a way to let their true selves show all the time. The perpetually quiet Mahatma Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights across the world. That was no act. That was the boldness of authentic leadership.
In our rapid cycle, hyper-competitive personal and professional lives, we can easily be lured into thinking that everything is a scarce resource. Leaders, however, are givers. They give time, compassion, respect, and support in the service and development of others. When we approach leadership from a perspective of serving, we are more likely to receive the support we need to make our vision a reality.
I look back and smile at that shy, socially awkward kid who turned his desire for playing with all the robots into a bona fide Transformers bartering system. Although he did not know it at the time, he lived his passion, had a vision, walked boldly, was his true self, and gave back. As I continue to grow in my own leadership practice, I have come full circle to grow from leader to leader.