Even though much of my work is literally TOO BIG FOR WORDS, occasionally I am inspired to write, and this is the place for that. Feel free to join in the conversation. Thanks for reading.
When I was a little girl growing up in Cincinnati, as the oldest of four, I was frequently encouraged, cajoled and told to take action because “You are a leader! That’s what a leader would do.” Thinking nothing of it - and assuming everyone else was being told the same thing - I spoke up, stood up and led. (I also did a heck of a lot of chores - leaders get stuff done.) I ran for student council, stood toe to toe with playground bullies and planned parties. Sure, there was a price to pay. I was often called “bossy” and took the heat when things didn’t go well. As an adult, I led service projects, block parties and even a mini revolt or two….
Recently, I’m waking up to realize that this (“be a leader”) is not a common child-rearing mantra. Most parents just don’t talk to their children this way, or so my friends and girls in Circle report. I am learning that most of my peers do not see themselves as leaders. There are many ways to lead and I’m using leadership far beyond political roles, but I am surprised that many of our local elections go unchallenged. I wonder whether we fail to see ourselves as leaders or don’t know how to be a leader. If you think about, many problems in the world today are the result of a void of leadership, if not poor leadership. Look around and you will likely read about or witness a leadership vacuum or abuse of leadership in your church, community or school. Very few of us are willing to rock the boat, float a new idea, or risk standing up and saying something different. It can be social suicide to rise up above the minutia of personal conflicts to envision a greater possibility. And this isn’t a personal attack. It’s really hard work, being a leader, and it takes tremendous courage. Living in these times, we desperately need more of us to consider the perspective of “we” above the smaller vista of “me.”
I wonder: How do we choose our leaders? Are leaders born or bred? Is leadership something we as a culture value? If so, when and how do we teach leadership skills? Who among us see it as their responsibility or right to lead? Is there a leadership void? Or, are we in the midst of a change state redefining leadership? A very different kind of leadership seems to be required for the crises we face and frankly, I don’t see it being instilled in the next generation.
Yesterday, I happened upon this terrific talk by Dave Logan: http://www.mindvalleyinsights.com/the-dark-side-of-leadership/. I highly recommend his three-step process for sparking leadership. He begins with an exercise to discover your “core, core values.” Sound familiar? Nearly all of my Circles this session stirred around core values. I like his spin on it, try it out. The next step is discerning what violates your values: revealed in what outrages you so much that you say, “This has to stop right now!”? Dave proposes that all great leaders are irate at violations of their core values; their resulting action demonstrates their leadership. See: Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Dr. King. The third step is discovering your “great, great gift” - that thing about you that has no “off” switch. In Circle, we call it “you being you.”
As you may have guessed, this process involves a dip, if not a dive, into your dark side. This is not surprising: when outrage spins out of control, it’s often not pretty to behold. Therefore, we avoid it at all costs, and instead wear the pretty masks of our good girl self.
I won’t ever forget the day one of my Circle groups walked in to the song “Step into the Bad Side” (from Dreamgirls), a portent of the shadow work to come. We all took a deep breath before taking a deep dive into the dark side of ourselves in an afford to attain authenticity. None of us keep photo albums of our dark side. None of us were eager to shine the light on our darkness. To make it more visible, I asked each woman to bring a physical representation of her shadow. I brought a huge heavy rock into Circle, representing my Sisyphus complex: “I have to do it all, alone.” They smiled, and loved me just the same. Those were challenging Circles, to be sure, as we each bravely exposed a side of ourselves usually kept hidden under lock and key. Embracing with loving acceptance each others’ shadows made it well worth the effort. There is nothing quite like being seen in such a vulnerable way, and still loved. By reflecting not only our light but also our darkness to each other, we were able to see the whole person, and she is beautiful!
Did you know that the dark side of the moon wasn’t photographed until 1959? Imagine that: we only see the light side of the moon, as it does not revolve. The moon is often used as a symbol of leadership; and we only see its light side? Isn’t there something suspicious about that? Think about how our culture reacts when the media shines the light on the dark side of politicians. Consider Bill Clinton, Chris Christie, Rod. “No!” we scream, “Show us only the light!”
How often is your dark side deliberately on display? Likely only your closest friends and family have ever gotten a glimpse.
It’s not all bad, I recently learned, having your dark side reflected back to you. In fact, it can be rather illuminating. On Mothers’ Day, my family decided to share favorite “Mom moments,” a birthday tradition of ours where we regale each other with favorite stories about the birthday celebrity. I took a deep breath. They were about to share stories about “me being me.” (Recall, last month was not the best month of my life.) Well, out flowed “Mama Bear” stories, as Jim fondly calls them. Stories about me speaking up (sometimes ‘emailing up’), standing up, showing up in full outrage: encouraging teachers to be more respectful, asking principals to be more creative, and reminding boards of their missions. I smiled. What a gift my family gave by choosing to illuminate my dark side - with humor, pride and gratitude.
Dave says leaders must always hold the dynamic tension of values and outrages: without compromise, balancing the light with the dark. Otherwise, we forget who we are and what’s more, fail to exercise our super-heroine powers! The two cannot be integrated, you can’t put one down while the other is exercised. In other words, the only way to build leadership muscle is to not only shine your light but also to weave it with your dark side. Fortunately, we can rely on the power of our great, great gift to assist us. Consider Batman. With a core, core value of justice, he’s outraged at corruption, and cannot help but give his gift of courage caring for the helpless. He moves toward his fear and saves the good buys from the bad guys. So, what we need is training in being a superhero and to discover our great, great gift! What does “you being you” feel like, look like, sound like?
How great would it be if our educational systems incorporated leadership training? How wonderful if our mindset was to help each other discover gifts, discern values, support outrages, and develop capacities to lead. In the meantime, Dave Logan’s corollary to Margaret Mead’s famous quote is a great place to begin:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtless, uncommitted people
can prevent the world from changing.
Indeed, they do so every day.
Find out why you're here. Get mad.
Bring in the power of your great, great gift.
Maintain a slow burn of outrage. Change the world!"
Why are you here? What is your great gift? When are you just being you? Look for opportunities to tell others, “Your great gift is.…” What are you ready to stand up and yell “Enough!” about? Scout out people who share not only your core values but also are outraged by violations of those values. Let’s join core values and outrages, illuminate each others’ gifts, and start leading the revolutionary/evolutionary change our world needs! Who’s with me?
Although most of the work I am privileged to do in the world is literally TOO BIG FOR WORDS, occasionally I am inspired to put some words to my experience, and this is the landing place. Chime in on the conversation. Your voice is needed.