When I was 13 I had a hockey coach named Buzz--who ironically had long curly hair. Buzz taught me that life has positive and negative leaders.
Sounds obvious, right?
There’s the scout troop leader who knows the way and takes everybody on a hike; positive leader.
There’s the tyrannical gang leader that takes a bunch of kids hurting and lonely and motivates them to unite to commit crimes against other groups; negative leader.
Well, Buzz also taught me about positive and negative followers. When teacher is leading a class, are you supporting the teacher’s message by listening and participating? That would be a positive follower. When your parents are trying to get the whole family to do yard work, are you grumbling and complaining the whole time? That would be a negative follower.
10 years later, I used Buzz’s lesson to teach a board room of Target Corporation’s executives the same concept. I challenged each person to think not in terms of “Am I a leader or not?” But, instead:
“How am I leading?” “Which role am I choosing?” “When am I leading a team to be positive and feel empowered?” “when am I leading a team out of fear of losing something: a bonus, a promotion, or even a job”
I also challenged them to think of how they are following in different situations:
“When am I choosing a positive attitude and doing my best?”
“Where am I choosing to complain behind my bosses back or doing only the bare minimum.”
By changing the approach from “Am I a leader or a Follower?” to “How am I leading and how am I following?”, each person really has to be accountable to their decisions. There aren’t “Born Leaders” and “Born Followers”. You are both a leader and follower in all aspects of your life. And in each situation, it’s up to you how you lead or follow.
I got such positive feedback from the Target executives that I decided to lean more about Leadership. I read books and watched YouTube videos. I realized that anyone putting out content was attempting to lead people. I volunteered to lead in non-profit organizations. I was president of a corporate choir. I directed children’s plays. In all of these activities, I got the chance to practice Public Relations, Internal Communications, and most importantly: Inspiring People to be part of something. I have to admit that I failed a few times. I offended some people. But, overall? I felt wildly successful! And I learned, and I learned, and I learned.
I found myself becoming a positive leader in my workplace, my church, my neighborhood, and even my Facebook page—where now, another 10 years later, I found myself quoting my old hockey coach as I wrote to another friend. After receiving more affirmation of this helpful lesson, I decided to search to see if Buzz was on Facebook.
Bingo. There he was.
I sent him a private message (not even a friend request) just to tell him, that though I had not been skating in 10 years, he had made a profound impact on my life. It was a long message. I listed several lessons he’d taught me—even though I knew he wouldn’t remember me.
How do you think he responded?
After I sent the message, I just had to wait. Wait and wonder. Would he ignore me? Would he say, “You’re welcome?”, “Would he encourage me to start skating again?”
Nope. None of the above.
A few days later he wrote back, “God works in mysterious ways.” It turns out that Buzz was near the end of a tough hockey season. He was coaching college-level and his players were starting games strong, but couldn’t finish the games. Buzz said he was at his “wit’s end” and then he got my message. A detailed message of the most profound things he had taught me about hockey and about life – including Endurance.
Do you think he got nostalgic? Did my message from the past send him into a reverie wishing for the good ol’ days?
Not at all. Buzz said that my message refreshed him. Encouraged him. And he went off to a practice that day--that he’d been dreading—with a renewed sense of purpose, passion, and direction.
I hadn’t told Buzz any new strategies. He had the tools. I didn’t tell him that I had been studying leadership for a decade. He didn’t need my credentials. I just thanked him for what he had taught me. I coached my coach at the moment he needed it.
From Elders to Babies. High School Dropouts to Doctors.
Everyone has something to learn and everyone has something to teach.
How can I say that?
Remember what I said at the beginning? All of us choose roles of following and leading.
Maybe you’re asking “Well, sure a high school kid might be able to teach much younger kids, but what can a baby possibly teach anyone?”
Talk a to a parent. A baby can teach you: - How to change a diaper - How to survive on very little sleep - How to be patient - How to empathize and be responsive to another person’s needs - how to play and be silly - How to enjoy a moment of 2 people just staring into each other’s eyes And most importantly,
- How to teach
Now obviously, the baby is not going to teach you these things in a classroom. They won’t dress up and carry a briefcase. There won’t even be a PowerPoint. Instead they will teach you by doing what their natural instincts tell them to do. They will react to You.
the first time they cry is to push fluid out of their lungs so they can draw breath. The next time they cry… who knows? It could be anything: hungry, sleepy, uncomfortable, scared, or just experimenting. Even the child won’t likely know why. And if you’re a youngest child—like I was—and it’s your first child? You won’t know either. But you’ll learn. Your baby will teach you.
Of course, you’ll have some idea based on your own experience. You know what it’s like to be human. But just because you’re human doesn’t mean you’ll know what’s wrong in the moment. Thankfully, your own human needs will give you a clue of what may be wrong. Then you just start experimenting with your options. If you get it wrong, the child will continue to punish you with shrieks and crying.
But when you finally find the answer, the child will reward you with—what I’ve come to know as—Beautiful Silence.
The process become a Joy. You learn how to have a relationship with another person. And they’re learning right along with you the whole time while they teach you.