I recently had the honor of attending a three-day U.S. Chamber of Commerce regional conference in Washington DC, along with a group of 80 leaders of chambers and associations from coast to coast. The days were full of rich content and strong networking, but by the time Friday lunch rolled around, I was just trying to figure out how I was going to get to the airport during rush hour. Admittedly, I was not focused on our last session of the conference, which was, of course, about leadership.
As we finished lunch, I whispered to a colleague, “I’m fine with these last two hours, so long as it is not interactive.” As soon as those words were out of my mouth, our energetic presenter began introducing himself, and some of his first words were: “This afternoon’s session is going to be extremely interactive!” Not just interactive—extremely interactive!
Well, the next two hours were extremely interactive—and hit me just where I needed it. Justin Patton, a well-known executive leadership coach, was our facilitator, and the timing of his message could not have been better. Sure, I’ve been to hundreds of these sessions, and many have left me inspired, but this one has stuck with me, in part for its simplicity.
We started by closing our eyes and thinking of the person we admire most as a leader. What three words would you use to describe this person? (Go ahead and do it now; it will make reading the remainder of this article more fun.) Uniformly, the words we shared were… honest, genuine, sincere, confident, responsible and trustworthy. We weren’t thinking of words like mean, arrogant, loud, dominating, intimidating or manipulative. What kind of leader would you like to be, and what type of leader do you want to follow?
Patton followed up this brief reflection with a quote from the Russian author Leo Tolstoy: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
Perhaps I should have known of this quote before that day, but I did not, and it hit me right in the gut. Today, we like to complain that our world is too fast, that we cannot keep up with technology. Well, based on my history lessons, Leo Tolstoy died in 1910 at the age of 82. I’m pretty sure we could harvest similar profound thoughts through the centuries. Has anything really changed? I assume all of us still want what is best for our families, for our neighborhoods, for our community and for the world. It seems we often put ourselves in compartments to spare us the real work: “Think of changing yourself.”
I have a lifetime of work to do in this area, and I’m certainly no expert. Over the past few weeks, I have truly tried to focus on what the other people in the room are saying—and not listen past what they are saying just to get to my own point. I have to be better with this, at home and at work. And I am beginning to believe our best leaders do not even set out to be leaders. We don’t have to jump in front of cameras or grab the headlines. We need to listen—genuinely listen—to one another, and think of changing the world… by changing ourselves.
Every choice you make in life is rooted in either love or fear, according to Patton. Those choices impact the chemical reactions in our body and shape the way we communicate and connect. So if you want to change your life, he says, change the core of how you make decisions. iBi