Another Unconventional Source of Leadership

 In appreciation, challenges, humility, leadership, perspective, Wednesday Wisdom

Last week, I shared an example of leadership behaviors from an unconventional source – teenagers. Up this week: leadership from the opposite side of the generational spectrum.

All of the organizations I’ve worked with have encouraged community involvement; it’s an opportunity I don’t take lightly. I’ve benefited tremendously by making service to the community part of my professional career. For almost 10 years, I participated in the Lunch Buddy program through the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, eating lunch with a grade-school buddy and then spending recess together a couple of times a month. It was a fantastic experience.

Once my buddy moved to middle school and transitioned from the Lunch Buddy program, I became a Friendly Visitor to a homebound senior. I met Rachel 2 ½ years ago. What started out as a community outreach engagement quickly grew into a friendship. By the third visit, it was clear to me that I was the one benefiting most from our relationship. Funny how that works!

Rachel and I have covered many topics during our time together over the last couple of years. We’ve discussed ‘safe’ subjects like the weather, cooking, and how much a good haircut costs these days. We share a good laugh every visit; her quick wit and sense of humor is amazing.

Over time, we’ve covered many other deeper subjects like our life and work experiences. We’ve talked about what’s changed over the years. And what hasn’t. Despite the vastly different roles we’ve each held in very different industries, it’s amazing how much we have in common. Slowly, I realized these weren’t “normal” conversations. Rachel has an incredible amount of wisdom to offer. I don’t know that she would ever have called herself a leader by title, but there’s no doubt in my mind she is one. The true blessing of our relationship is what she’s taught me. (Unintentionally, I assure you, as she is one of the most humble people I’ve ever met.) The most valuable thing Rachel teaches me is perspective.

Rachel worked almost her whole life, and certainly her entire adult life. Working with people. Leading people. Motivating people. The “people” challenges of leadership roles have been around for years. Granted, some of the issues might look different in 2019 than they did twenty years ago, but surprisingly, many are the same.

Here are three timeless leadership lessons Rachel has taught me:

Do it while you can.

Rachel can’t physically do as much as she used to do, so she gently reminds me to not take this ability for granted. Do what you love to do while you can. I love the notion that there will never be a better time than the present. As a leader, it’s important to take action. Today.

Hard work trumps everything; complaining doesn’t help anything.

The stories Rachel’s shared about her life are truly amazing. I’ll never tire of hearing them. Her work ethic is phenomenal. And although life handed her some tough circumstances, I’ve never heard her complain. She is full of gratitude for the opportunities she’s had and the people she’s met.

Offer the world your strengths.

Rachel doesn’t waste energy on wishful thinking. Her consistently positive message to me: Make this world a better place using what you have. The confidence she has in me is unbelievable. And extremely meaningful.

As leaders today, we have an almost limitless supply of internet resources at our fingertips. But don’t miss out on the opportunity to check in with the generation that has gone before us. Perhaps it’s a parent that’s still alive. Maybe it’s a retired neighbor. It could even be someone with institutional knowledge who is still employed within your organization. Ask them how they’ve solved a similar problem. Or ask them to share their greatest life lesson, whether it be personal or professional. At minimum, it will start an interesting conversation. At best, you will benefit from the shared wisdom of those that have encountered similar situations.

When was the last time you secured a piece of wisdom from a prior generation?

 

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