Stepping into the Fray
If you know me, you know that I’m a fan of the Buffalo Bills. And you can guess how I felt after our tragic Monday night loss to the Denver Broncos in the last seconds of regulation. I was at Highmark Stadium for the game, and those who’ve seen a tough loss in person understand how brutal and deflating it can feel. But while there are definitely many leadership lessons to be learned from watching that game, the most profound event I witnessed that day, and in many ways the redeeming moment of the trip, happened after the game, while everyone was trying to get home.
My friends and I were driving away from the stadium, stuck in traffic. In front of us was a 20-something driver who, it became clear, was contributing to the jam. She was very apprehensive about pulling out, concerned about hitting any one of the thousands of people walking from the stadium, passing by her car. She was terrified to think what would happen if she moved forward. It was clear to the cars around her that she was in a tough spot, but the bottleneck of cars behind her was causing a massive backup of traffic. So she was caught between competing priorities. Do I drive forward and risk the chance of hurting someone, or do I stay put and keep all the cars behind me from leaving? I empathized with the woman but didn’t see any obvious solution to this difficult situation.
But one of my friends did. An older gentleman and one-time season ticket holder who had been to the stadium many times before, he knew there would be no end to the stream of pedestrians. The young lady needed to pull out, but her concern for the well-being of others, combined with an insecurity born of inexperience, was paralyzing her.
So my friend jumped out of our vehicle, ran out in front of hers, and took the role of decision-maker on her behalf. He became a director of traffic in his loud, boisterous, but friendly way. He held his arms up and invited everybody to pass in a different direction, waited for the slowdown of foot traffic, and then gave the young driver the initiative, you might even say the inspiration, to drive herself forward into the chaos. With his help, she finally pulled out safely. The flow of traffic resumed.
Now, why do I call this a lesson in leadership? Because I saw for myself this moment of unexpected clarity and inspiration given to a young driver by one who had been there long before. I’m sure if my friend could have had a conversation with that driver, he would have pointed to many times in his own past where he was stuck in the same paralysis of indecision. I think there’s a lesson to be learned for all of us. In the midst of our day to day journeys, as we walk through life and enter into and out of different circumstances, we are constantly confronted by opportunities to help others. Through simple, kind gestures, we can inspire others to take action based on the confidence of our own experience.
But oftentimes, we just sit back and wait for them to figure it out. I can’t help but imagine what would have happened had we left her alone in that parking lot. We may still be sitting there a few days later, waiting for her to make a decision! Instead, my friend took the initiative to put himself in the midst of the fray, which is risky. The cost of leadership is sacrifice. We give things of ourselves, whether it be time, energy, knowledge, or courage, in order to help others do what we know they are capable of. In rare cases, we may even put our body on the line. Thousands of disappointed Bills fans anxious to get as far away from Orchard Park as possible are not to be trifled with! But my friend did what he could to help someone who needed it. THAT is leadership.
And so, as we go forward as leaders, set the intention for yourself to be of greater influence in this world, recognizing that there is going to be a sacrifice. For my friend, the sacrifice was the comfort of the backseat of the car, the passive renunciation of responsibility. But instead, he chose to press into the discomfort, to get out there in the middle of the mess and help someone. What can you do with this? What’s your next step? Maybe today you’ll notice somebody struggling with a decision, maybe wrestling with their own competing priorities and wondering what they could do. Maybe it’s your turn to step out of the comfort of your own backseat and figure out how you can encourage or inspire action in someone else. From your own experience, where is it today, in this season of your life and journey? What could it look like to help someone else step into the fray?
If you’re interested in developing your leadership instincts and leading with courage, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be happy to help.