Given the events at the Capitol last week, and the Inauguration here in the United States this week, I am called upon to reflect on LeaderFULL moments.
I define these LeaderFULL moments as those that are potent with leadership need and potential. They hold the possibility of us individually and collectively exercising our leadership – to create hope, to stand up for what is right, and work on acting in a way that creates bridges, reduces division, and carves a way forward, even if it’s only to the very next step while we unravel complexity and competing agendas.
Pearls of Wisdom
I wonder what pearls of wisdom Martin Luther King, Jr. would have for us, if he were alive today. He made many wise and inspirational comments, and one of them is “the time is always right to do what is right.” I wonder what he would say, when here we are, an unbelievably 53 years after his death, and we are still working on realizing his social justice agenda.
Hard is Not Impossible
Yes, it’s been a hard year for so many reasons: the pandemic and it’s economic, social and health implications. It took only a couple of months for our economy and social contracts to unravel. This tells me that, just below the surface things were quite precarious to go awry so quickly. Hard is not impossible, although there are days it might feel impossible. When we experience a lapse of hope or faith, that is when we need to dig deep and find inspiration and connection.
I am lifted by Patty Griffin’s song, “Up to the Mountain,” a Martin Luther King, Jr, tribute, inspired by his last speech. This man was willing to risk, and ultimately give up his life, for the dream of a more socially just world. What moves you so deeply that you would hold a life conviction to make a difference?
Strength to Carry On
It’s easy to lead in prosperous and simple times. Challenge, unrest, disruption, uncertainty, all require true leadership. Prior to this year, I’ve had many moments personally and professionally where I asked myself, can I do this, when confronted with an overwhelming goal or situation? I’d find myself asking, do I really want to do this? How can I overcome this challenge to get to where I want, or need to be?
A Reason to Strive
Typically, I am able to persevere if I want the goal I am pursuing enough – if, as Simon Sinek has popularized, “my big why” is clear and worth it. In addition, it’s always easier when I have others in on the striving with me.
The Danger of a Single Story
As a country, our problems are complex and there is great division, yet I still have hope for the American Spirit to find a way forward creating more mutual understanding, respect and unity. I am struck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s incredible ability to illustrate the danger of a single story about a people or a nation. “Single stories create stereotypes. Not that they are untrue, but they become the only story.”
What struck me so profoundly last week is how many different stories were circulating that people really believed were true, regardless of what your political position or affiliation is. And yet most people could agree that certain lines were crossed. I have never considered myself a “political person,” and I don’t intend this post to be.
United in Humanity
In order to be a more perfect union, and united country, the future lies in our hands. In the last few years people have been too long pointing fingers at “the other” with labels that focus on the stereotypes or one dimension of who they are. Chimamanda so beautifully illustrates that when you understand the complexity of someone’s story or identity, it unites us in our humanity, instead of dividing us in our differences.
A Way Forward
As a country, we need to find a way forward. We need deeper thinking on complex issues. We need more listening with a seeking to truly understand. We need compassion, empathy in action. We need more learning as we act. We need more acting as we learn. The conversation needs to be more about exploring how can we come together when things fall apart, despite our differences? What can you, personally do, in your immediate circle of concern? How can you foster more learning and understanding?
Identify a person or situation where you can start leading with more empathy and understanding to build bridges and get out of your comfort zone, standing up for doing the right thing, even if it’s hard. Get a little uncomfortable, with a little help from your friends. Make a new friend with someone across the aisle or very different from you.
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Suze Shaner is an executive coach and leadership & organization effectiveness consultant. She also teaches yoga and meditation – tools to keep one sane in uncertain times. She helps professionals step up to their fullest leadership, life, and growth potential. At times this means getting out of their own way in getting important stuff accomplished. www.sagelead.com.