I didn’t understand or appreciate my first mentor’s guidance. They wrote me a note that said, “Leadership is the manifestation of your humanity; your connection to those who choose to join you. Don’t let an organization or popular thinking pressure you to lose your compassion, your moral compass or your core self. If you do, it will end badly.” I was too early in my career, too anxious to succeed, too full of myself and, frankly, too superficial to even comprehend what they meant.
It wasn’t until after several fuck ups and failed attempts to fit into the crowd that I had a clue. Shante, my mentor, kept making me to think hard about myself; my values, my beliefs, my people skills. I hated those conversations. I wanted to hear how they succeeded and how I could follow suit. But they insisted that I be grounded in a firm sense of myself and my character. I had to experience the pain of messing up or pretending to be some clone for me to learn the lesson.
It turns out that without that strong core, we are open to being molded, manipulated, going outside our moral code, becoming a one-dimensional façade. I tried too hard to be what others wanted me to be and that caused me to lose myself. It was scary. There was so little there. I don’t recommend it.
Shante was right. Being fully human is at the core of good leadership. Because you can’t connect with others if you are just a cardboard cut-out. Everyday I’m learning more about myself and others. And I’ve put that flat cut-out in the recycle bin.
People don’t trust leaders who change with the wind. Staff want leaders who are for-real, grounded in admirable values and fallible. Doing the work of self-discovery is the most fundamental work a leader can do.
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