I recently remembered what I believe was a Billy Graham quote that appeared in the newspaper when I was a kid that said essentially, “A person of integrity behaves the same way 50 miles from home as they do when they are home.” This served as a timely reminder to me to check if I am “walking my talk” and showing up in all aspects of my life in a manner consistent with my leadership vision.
As most of us know, it is easier to be kind, loving, helpful, and generous when things are going our way. But when something happens to us or around us that wasn’t what we intended or expected, how do we respond? Where is our energy directed, and how positive and constructive is our energy during these times of duress?
Lately, we have been working with many of our clients around how they can develop themselves to be more selfless in their leadership. Selfless leadership measures the extent to which a leader pursues service over self-interest, where the need for credit and personal ambition is far less important than creating results that serve a common good. The challenge for many of us is finding the balance, the “sweet spot” between selflessness and our own individual drive to succeed.
One of the ways we can balance these two polarities is to become self-aware through intentional mindfulness to when and how we become triggered into a state of self-righteous indignation. If you get to that state, you have likely become so preoccupied with yourself and your own agenda that you no longer care about – or are even aware of – others or the opportunity to teach, share, or contribute to others’ development and well-being.
Let me share a recent incident of which I am not particularly proud, although I am pleased that I recognized my lack of selflessness shortly after the event. I was getting my car ready for my daughter to take back with her to college, a decision designed to minimize a number of eight-hour round trips planned for the fall. Although it wasn’t urgent, I decided it would be a good idea to get the oil changed before she left. It was too late to make an appointment with our regular mechanic, so I took it to one of those 10-minute oil change shops. While I was only in there for an oil change, the salesperson recommended, based on my mileage, a few other services that were called for and said it would only take another 10 minutes. My gut instinct, which I should have trusted, was to decline the offer, but I also wanted to make sure the car was in top operating order for my daughter.
I reluctantly gave the go-ahead, and that is when things started to unravel. It was clear from the “CarCam” that they were having trouble accessing whatever it was they were trying to access, and finally, 55 minutes later, called it on a count of darkness. The 10-minute whatever-it-was had now taken 55 minutes and they couldn’t figure out how to replace it. Needless to say, I was not happy. Additionally, I became fearful that maybe they had messed something up and I would have to take the car into my mechanic the next day, unannounced, to fix what they messed up. I was working myself quietly up to a state of righteous indignation.
Because I became so self-focused about being inconvenienced and wasting so much time, worrying that perhaps they had damaged my car, I missed a number of opportunities to help the staff learn and grow from the experience. After all, they were doing what they were supposed to be doing, recommending a particular service and giving their best shot to provide the service – all things I would encourage my clients, partners, and children to do. But in this instance, I missed my calling, I did not show up as the leader that I envision myself to be. I allowed myself to feel put out, so much so that I insisted on paying for the unfortunate person who got stuck behind me. I paid not out of kindness, but as a way of showing up for the folks that tried their best and learned.
I left the parking lot feeling frustrated and angry, angry with myself for two reasons. First, for not trusting my instinct, and second for allowing my self-righteous indignation to cause me to react and not respond. This feeling stayed with me for two days. Finally, three days later, I returned to the scene of the crime, where my behavior was out of alignment with my vision for my leadership. I returned bearing gifts (bagels), but really came back to apologize for my impatience and energy and for failing to take the opportunity to guide myself and others to discover their true calling and innate greatness.
If you are looking to learn some skills and practices that will help align your behavior with your leadership vision, please join us for our next offering of Emergent Leader.