Leadership Story and Philosophy: Making a Contribution

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I facilitate a lot of leadership workshops and experiences. At some point in most workshops, I tell my leadership story. It’s about credibility (“hey, I’ve struggled too, am imperfect, and I choose to lead”), but it’s also about vulnerability. Even if you tell an incredible story, when it’s about yourself, there is almost always a “gulp” moment.

Because “values” have been so important to me in my career, the story I tell is about values. It’s about how a Midwestern girl who could barely speak in class in high school or college speech class, transforms into someone who is willing to lose the job of her life in order to speak up to a boss who bullies others.

It’s about a candidate (yes, me), who interviewed the interviewers about the “Values of the Company” and learned a valuable lesson in listening to intuition.

It’s about all of the people I’ve worked with in the mail room, the customer service line, the supervisors and even senior leaders who felt they did not have a voice.

It is about values for me. Because one of my values is “freedom,” I often contemplate “what I want to do when I grow up.” I love what I do, but I’m one of those people who wants ever-more freedom in something more, different, better, more fun.

So, I think:

Maybe I could be a Gallery Owner! I LOVE art, talking with artists, art openings and being around creativity. But then, do I want to have to explain why a brilliant piece of art is priced at $2,500 to someone who thinks $40 is expensive for a print from Target?

Maybe I could teach fitness classes! I would get fit myself. I would show folks that you don’t have to have a BMI of 20 to be a success. But then, do I really want to be sweaty that much and take all of those showers?

Maybe I could become a real estate agent! I LOVE real-estate, and at any given time, can likely quote the price of cool houses for sale in a 5 mile radius of my house. But then, do I really want to compete for buyers, do all of that icky closing stuff, and work on weekends or any time someone calls to see a house?

(With a friend) Maybe we could open a restaurant/bar/food truck! We have a ton of ideas about good food. But then, do we want to work nights, weekends, on our feet, managing a business that is going to barely break even?

The truth is that I don’t want to sell to people who have to be “convinced,” to be sweaty all the time, or to work nights and weekends on frequent basis even if I get to be in cool houses or a cool restaurant. I want to make a difference in corporate America. Or should I say, CORPORATE America.

My leadership philosophy may explain it all:

I believe that every individual, no matter how young or old, how engaged or jaded, or how high up (or low down) in the hierarchy, want to make a contribution to their work or to their world. They may not know it. They may not show it.

But EVERYONE has a contribution to make and it’s a leader’s role – and responsibility even – to help individuals make that contribution a reality.

I work with all levels of leadership, but most often find myself working with the senior leaders of an organization. I don’t do leadership work with senior leaders because I want to deal with the powerful movers and shakers of the world. I do that work in the hope that if I can help one senior leader be a leader that inspires hope in those hundreds or thousands who work “for them” I can make a difference in Corporate America.

How do you make a difference and what values are driving you?