Leaders can’t be defined by a standardized, one-size-fits-all list of traits. This is the premise of True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership. Instead, authors Bill George and Peter Sims found that authentic leaders consistently define themselves in terms of their unique personal stories.
Naturally, they got me to asking myself, what’s mine?
There definitely have been defining moments. Looking back, there have also been consistently recurring themes.
But it took a recent direct message from a new twitter follower to put my answer into focus. Chelsea Hanson, a Business Growth Coach from Green Bay Wisconsin tweeted, “Great to connect . . . I love learning about how people got started in their work. . . how did you get into what you are doing?”
I tweeted back, “Likewise! 🙂 Step by little step. Pieces of mosaic fall into place to form the patterned picture recognized only with hindsight.”
It’s been my consistent belief that, of all the things I could do with my life, I should choose that which does the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people. With that standard in mind, my aspirations have been shaped and transformed, expanded and focused with each new experience.
The autobiographical section of Rethinking Survival describes early influences. It started with Miss Elson, my senior year English teacher.
Though I didn’t take her seriously at the time, Miss Elson told me I should be a writer. My answers to her essay questions showed the marks of an original thinker. In contrast, she let me read a batch of classmates’ papers to demonstrate the mindlessness she labored to shake up.
“What is life?” she asked. Like wind-up toys, most regurgitated definitions memorized in biology class. Catholics added their church credo to the mix. From her I learned that there’s more to being human than the ability parrot others’ words. It includes the capacity to reason and articulate clearly.
Later, while I was earning an M.A. in English M.A. at the UW-Madison, my aspiration was to be like Miss Elson. Without the tools of language and logic to analyze experience and express one’s concerns, how could people name, much less solve their problems? At the time, the highest calling I could imagine was to teach students how to think — really think — for themselves.
My aspirations continued to evolve as a music student in Düsseldorf, Germany. For me, the highlight of studies at the Robert Schumann Konservatorium wasn’t the music teachers, but a modest, insightful kinesiology instructor. Frau Lehru wasn’t a musician herself. But vocal and instrumental teachers alike sent students beyond their help to her.
The pianist whose lessons were scheduled the hour before mine told me her story. Herr Dreschel had given up on her as either lazy or untalented. But Frau Lehru diagnosed the real problem — pinched spinal nerves. Recommended visits to a chiropractor worked “miracles.” Elated, she was a “new person.”
I went to her studio and asked Frau Lehru to coach me. Her lessons were wonderful. She saw timidity in my posture and tension in the way I held my violin. She gave me exercises to correct not only my posture, but the underlying attitudes which bent me out of shape.
“Platz machen,” she encouraged me. “Make room! Don’t crowd me!” And, “Auf wiederstand waschen.” Figuratively, Grow upwards. Stand tall under the pressure of resistance and adversity.
In retrospect, it was as if she’d reinvented the yogic disciplines which sitar and tabla students are taught in India, where music technique is balanced with breathing and physical exercises. Her gift inspired a change in my career goals.
Rather than teach technique, I could help many more musicians by becoming an exercise-and-therapy coach in one, like her. She was much too busy to consider writing about her methods and results. I would do this for her with a book called The Body as Instrument: How to Tune It.
Still later, ratcheting up another notch, I aspired to build schools to facilitate an entire generation of coaches like Frau Lehru. A primary purpose for earning the Ph.D. in Educational Administration from the UW-Madison was to hold the credential required to build an accredited alternative school. My envisioned School-Without-Walls was intended to serve the unmet needs of other boundary-spanners also seeking to fill in the gaps of our failing educational system.
Each new experience has continued to lead to the next. Many steps later, I’ve come full circle to fulfill Miss Elson’s early prediction. Today, I’m a writer because I’m certain that I’ve succeeded in putting my finger on the pulse of a critical information deficit. It explains the excruciating painful, potentially fatal world-wide leadership deficit.
Further, I am certain that the Positive Paradigm of Change not only fills a critical information gap in the way we train our leaders, but that, like a laser beam, it illumines every field of endeavor towards which it’s pointed. This includes not only leadership and governance, but also education, the arts and sciences.
Today my aspiration is for this information to reach the greatest number of people possible, in order to do the greatest possible amount of good. The stakes could not be higher, for I take Einstein’s prophetic warning deeply to heart: “We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.”
If you agree, and if you can help, let’s talk!