I have been thinking a lot about leadership this week after reading the shocking quote from Donald Trump, who called for a “database of all Muslims in the country to be set up, in order to track their movements.” Track their movements? Is anyone else thinking of a mustached sadistic leader from the 1940’s?
Questioning my future leaders, I began searching for some encouragement that my country will be okay. I found it in one of my 21st century therapies; I found it in my podcasts. I love podcasts. My hands grip the steering wheel as I listen week by week to Serial’s captivating story around who was responsible for a murder. Then there is Terry Gross on Fresh Air who has an intriguing way of interviewing everyone from Willy Nelson to a Hillary Clinton. But, it is the TED Radio Hour that I most enjoy listening to on my runs, car rides, or when I need a shot of inspiration and hope.
If you are not aware TED Radio Hour is a compilation of four or five TED talks, which are short, powerful lectures around technology, entertainment, and design. I am a fan of TED, not only because I had an amazing experience doing a TEDx talk, but also because I am so deeply drawn to peoples ideas, stories, heartache, and healing. One of my deepest passions is experiencing the connection that happens between human beings when stories and ideas are shared and witnessed.
I have been this way since I was a child; I would find myself on the playground, which was the parking lot blacktop at St. Joan of Arc, in the “crying corner.” The “crying corner” was pretty much a metal railing in between two pine trees where kids would go if they felt left out, shamed, embarrassed, or alone. I would spend my time there either consoling my friends wounded souls, or healing my own shame and sadness.
The TED radio hour is the place where the “crying corner” stories are told. It encompasses everything from stories of the heart, to enlightening research around various scientific topics, while sharing creative ways to live a more fulfilling life. As a creative and “crying corner” junkie this global community of curious souls yearning for a deeper understanding of the world is right up my alley.
I have listened to 100’s of TED talks, but it was yesterday’s topic that pulled me out of my leadership funk to share this blog entry. The TED podcast was on Disruptive Leadership. In this hour the speakers share about what it takes to be a leader and shake up the status quo.
General Stanley McChrystal, top military commander in Afghanistan, shared about how to deal with failure as a leader, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, spoke about cultivating women leaders, and Bunker Roy, a social activist from India shared how he educates grandmothers to implement solar energy into their villages. But it was Drew Dudley’s talk about changing someone’s life without realizing it that reminded me what real leadership is about.
Drew talks about “How we have made leadership into something bigger than us, we have made it about changing the world. He is worried that our society is celebrating amazing things that hardly anybody can do and that we have convinced ourselves those are the only things we are celebrating. Devaluing the things we all do everyday.”
The thing about leadership is most of it happens quietly, because the majority of people who lead don’t think of themselves as leaders.
By listening to Drew’s wisdom around opening our eyes to all those around us I was pulled out of my current leadership woes to ask myself, “Who are my leaders?”
As a therapist, the first people that came to mind were my clients. I am in awe of the immense amount of courage it takes my clients to walk in my office every week, searching for healing around their traumatic childhood or confusing marriage, diving deeper into questioning their sexuality, or struggling daily with anxiety or depression. You see healing has a ripple effect, and when you are able to stay present and look below the surface into your own challenges, you are not only changing your own life but, all those around you, this is what I define as a leader.
Another one of my leaders is not on the cover of any magazine or newspaper, or traveling around the globe solving the worlds largest problems. He is right in my backyard of Sisters, Oregon. His name is Ron and he used to be my next-door neighbor. I don’t think I have ever met anyone more courageous, and who lives in his heart over his head. One of Ron’s mantras is, “If you tell the truth, your life will be wonderful.” And has he ever told the truth. He had to tell the truth when he left his wife and two children to come out as a gay man. He had to tell the truth when he had to leave his congregation as a preacher because he did not feel his church had the same philosophy in life of accepting all people with an open heart. He had to tell the truth when he contracted AIDS and saw his friends and partner pass away from this disease that in the 80’s was tarred with shame. He had to tell the truth when he opened his long-term relationship between he and his partner, for another man. Yes you read that right; there are three men in his relationship. They are relationship pioneers, breaking out of our societal rules of what love can look like. By Ron living in his truth, telling the truth, and quietly inspiring others to do the same, he is one of my largest leaders.
Dudley’s TED talk reminded me to open my eyes that leaders are not only on CNN or the top story of the day on social media; leaders are our neighbors, family and friends participating in quiet and humble actions. Leadership moments are about everyday heart connections, remembering the powerful impact we have on each other’s lives. I have made a pledge to myself to not look only at the Barak Obamas or Dalai Lamas of the world, but to the leaders in my everyday life. I remind myself to witness the my dear friends who are single mothers, and the immensely selfless acts they do for their children everyday, to wake up to the kindness in the checkout boy at The Grocery Outlet, and to remember to thank my children’s 2nd and 4th grade teachers for their contagious passion for education.
Leadership comes down to the heart. It is reflected in your everyday acts of care, truth, love, and capacity for growth. As Drew Dudley shared, “We need to get over how extraordinarily powerful we can be in each other’s lives. We need to get over it so we can move beyond it.”