From Our Early Files:
05 March 2014
“It is the management of self that should occupy 50% of our time and the best of our ability.”
In 2011, our nation was shocked when prominent Pennsylvania State University leaders, including the late legendary football coach Joe Paterno, were accused of ignoring allegations of child sex abuse by the school’s former defensive coordinator almost a decade earlier. In addition to tarnishing a university’s once-sterling reputation, shattering the trust of an entire sport, and prematurely ending the career of a coach with the most victories in collegiate history leaves all of us wondering, “How can something like this happen?”
The sad truth is that their failure didn’t happen overnight. It was the result of warnings ignored, abdicated responsibility, missed opportunity, and a lack of commitment to stand up for the very values these leaders espoused, publicly and privately. The price of their silence was the loss of tens of millions of dollars for the university, tarnished reputations, and more importantly, the betrayal of at-risk youth who were abused victims of the not-for-profit foundation created to help give them a new start on life.
And it all started because leaders involved forgot to lead themselves well in a moment when it mattered most.
Leadership has always mattered and it is inconceivable that there will ever be a time when it doesn’t. Perhaps no one has expressed it better than John Maxwell when he said, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Especially, I’ll add, when facing daunting, discouraging, or demanding circumstances.
History and experience continues to affirm that the true leaders in our society are those whose performance and attitude exceed our expectations when the chips are down and hard things need to get done. They are the people in our midst who are the sparks of progress in our homes, workplaces, worship spaces and communities whose titles may not accurately reflect their status–the men and women unafraid to lean into challenging circumstances so they can do something to create conditions for nobler values to take root and blossom—one opportunity to lead by example at a time.
“…you must believe you are capable of leading well and next, you must commit to leading with your deepest self.”
Of course, its one thing to want to lead by example in a way that motives, inspires and promotes excellence and something altogether different to actually accomplish it. Effectively leading by example demands two things: First, you must believe you are capable of leading well and next, you must commit to leading with your deepest self.
Choosing to lead should stem from the important understanding that leadership is about making a difference for other people. Leadership matters because people matter. It has always been that way and as long as there are people to be led, it always will be that way.
Leading with your deepest self means you care enough about your people to commit to doing what’s best for them, even when it’s personally inconvenient or uncomfortable. It is recognizing that people watch their leader far more closely than most leaders ever realize. It is understanding that it is how a leader conducts themselves in both good times and tough that gives those around them permission to believe they can accomplish anything, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
Years ago, the Kellogg Foundation published a report on the status of leadership on university campuses across America. The study included both public and private schools and provided some very intriguing conclusions. Most notably it confirmed the following beliefs among college students:
• Everyone has the potential to be a leader.
• Leadership cannot be separated from values.
• Leadership must be actively practiced.
• In today’s world, everyone needs to develop his or her leadership skills.
“…someone has to choose to accept responsibility for going first in leading the change they want to see occur in their surroundings.”
What this tells us is that more and more people today believe leadership is a 360-degree proposition. Because we all wield some measure of influence, we all have opportunities to lead. We can all lead up, we can lead across, and we can lead down. But someone has to choose to accept responsibility for going first in leading the change they want to see occur in their surroundings.
In the end, accepting a broader view of the importance of leading well right where we are demands that each of us succeed in our most important leadership role of all–self-leadership. As author Maggie Warrell reminds us, “We cannot hope to influence and create change in the world around us, until we have taken on the hard work of creating change in the world within us.”
Are you up to the task?