Leadership Fosters Growth In Whatever We Do

On my mind recently has been the concept of leadership.  It has come up recently in a number of ways: a noted speaker, a new ‘club’ at Passport, and the passing of a great leader.

1) I recently had the privilege of hearing Drew Dudley speak, a well-traveled speaker who got his start when his TED talk on leadership went viral.  Basically, he says that leadership does not have to be big, grandiose actions or loud proclamations.  Instead, you can be a leader in very simple and small ways that add together over time to have a real impact – he calls it everyday leadership.  He gave numerous examples but one of the ones he used is one where he was in college and through a kind and sweetly funny gesture was able to break the ice for a boy and girl in line together on the first day for students on campus. He gave numerous examples, but the one that stood out to me was from his college days, where a sweet, but funny gesture was able to break the ice for a boy and girl in line together on their first day on campus. The young lady, until she met Drew, was on the verge of quitting school.  She didn’t end up quitting, and after 4 years in school, sought out Drew to let him know that he was the reason she stayed that day – oh, and that she was still dating that boy from that first day of school.  What Drew did that day was to get that young man to give the girl a lollipop from the bucket he was carrying around.  As soon as he did, he turned to the girls parents and said “Look at that…first day away from home and she’s already taking candy from a stranger” which sent the crowd of students into hysterics.  That was the moment, according to the girl, that she realized she was where she needed to be.  Drew’s action there was not what a lot of people think of as leadership, but it was purposeful and had a real impact in on someone’s life.  Think about, in your daily life, not only how you might create these ‘lollipop moments’ for others, but also – who in your life has had that kind of impact on you.  Have you told them as much?

2) At Passport, we recently formed a ‘leadership club’ with the idea that we would gather monthly after hours and discuss a book on business strategy and how it could potentially be applied to what we do.  There was no hard requirement to come out with any action items, but rather to provoke thought and creative thinking.  People from all groups – software development, operations, legal, marketing, sales, management – attended.  The culmination of the various perspectives lead to amazing talking points and eye opening conversations; things that I never would have thought of.  Not just about what we talked about (our first book was Traction) but we leave it flexible enough that conversations can take sometimes lengthy detours into other interesting and exciting topics.  It was one of the most energizing, enjoyable, and thought provoking two hours I’ve had in a long time.  We left the meeting without taking formal notes or setting an action plan.  We decided if the ideas were good enough we would remember them and those that felt strongly enough could push forward.  Anyone was given authority to take action on one of those ideas, even if it wasn’t under your purview (within reason – no one expects the sales team to go start writing code….nor would they want us to).  What we did not discuss was how to lead nor did we spend any time defining what leadership is.  But everyone who attended (and I have a feeling the number will grow next month) left more empowered to lead, to take ownership of an idea.

3)  Then on February 7th, one of the most impactful leaders in my life, Dean Smith, passed away.  He famously coached basketball at my alma mater, The University of North Carolina, where he won national championships, mentored future NBA greats like Michael Jordan, and eventually had the basketball arena named after him.  Even though I never played for him and really only met him in passing once or twice, he had a profound impact on my life for a number of reasons.  The biggest is that my father matriculated through UNC during Coach Smith’s tenure and even played some basketball for his JV team, affording him close contact with the program and the coach.  My father taught me to work hard, without chest thumping, to acknowledge those that assist you along the way, and to do try to do right in all situations.  Those are a few of the tenets that Coach Smith cultivated in those that he coached and knew throughout life – and he set a powerful enough example that his leadership propagated through two generations of Singletarys.  Though Coach Smith was frequently the subject of much praise and attention, he wasn’t much for the limelight.  Rather he led by example in seemingly small, quiet ways. For example, the simple act of him dining with a black divinity student in a previously segregated restaurant after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed helped spur desegregation in Chapel Hill.

Coach Smith’s legacy will be one of leadership, but not because he was a legendary war hero or charismatic public speaker but rather because he put his players and family first, investing time and thought into their lives.  His example is one to strive for in one’s personal life as well as at work.  Hopefully I, and the team at Passport, can continue to do things like the Leadership Club to foster this kind of growth, even if in just a small way.  Leadership in every form, I’ve learned, is an intentional act, big or small, not a character trait.  What will you do today to be a leader?