Are You Leading or Are You Led?

Last week, I wrote about how in-your-face Covid has been for all of us. Not equally, of course. Some of your families may be right now threatened by the disease itself. Yet it confronts us all. Last week,  I invited you to hear Anne Zehren our Thursday resilience speaker.  Anne has dealt for a decade with a disease that flipped her life script of habits, connections, and identity. Then, in case she hadn’t faced enough adversity, Anne let me know on Tuesday that her mother had suffered a massive heart attack, was in ICU, and Anne wouldn’t be able to speak.  There is a randomness to life, as a result of which there is sometimes, “no rest for the weary.” We’re praying for her and her family.

I have realized that sometimes we teach – or seek teachers – to teach ourself, what we most need to learn. My 2020 has been challenging. I had Bells Palsy and have not fully emerged. Other challenges have arisen for me, alongside the Covid and BLM challenges we all face. Resilience matters a lot to me right now.

I feel the most fervent about this week’s resilience speaker. My student-turned-mentee-turned-friend Andre Matthews will be speaking, and I will manage the Q & A with him. LeadingX2 sometimes involves 50/50 co-founders, co-CEOs, or married couples. In such cases, the structure is horizontal. Yet we can Lead by Two with a manager or a subordinate, or in this case, a mentor and mentee, where the relationship can be depicted as vertical.

Andre has been teaching me since I had him as an undergrad eight years ago. I’m like a lot of men, older people, people with authority and privilege, and white people:  I can easily assume that I am the teacher, the framer of knowledge, the one who has a right if not a duty to ask the questions. I am the one to inspire, challenge, enable, coach, instruct, etc. I give. Others receive.  I lead. Others follow.   Yet, when I finish Read2Lead every week with the line: “lead with your best self,” I am asserting for you and me what James MacGregor Burns’ wrote when he defined “transformational” (rather than “transactional”) leadership, back in 1970: 

“Leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality.”* (emphasis added)

Hierarchy, structure, power disappear. They give way to humanity, reciprocity, uniqueness, and humility. Mutual growth occurs. 

So, Andre and I are seemingly in a vertical relationship.  He is decades younger than me, less well educated, still just starting out.

Oh, and Andre is Black.  My fellow readers who are white: I hope you are getting past the initial resistance almost all of us had to this notion that we are privileged. An aspect of my white privilege is thinking – without even knowing it – that Andre needs me, that I have to teach him, that he is right when he deferentially refers to me as “Professor Dan.” Those unconscious thoughts are so wrong in this case of transformational leadership. Here’s what’s true.

Andre has forgotten more about resilience than I – will ever know.  He is an expert in resilience. Like our first speaker Rob, who was paralyzed 1050 days ago, Andre faced and faces down challenge and adversity such as I, and likely you, have never known.  Treat yourself. Register to be a student of Andre’s on resilience, this Thursday at 7:00 PM Eastern / 4:00 PM Pacific. And, by doing so: 

Lead with your best self.

*In today’s language we might not use the world “morality,” but perhaps instead, use “goodness” or “virtuousness” or even “self-actualization.”