Last week I wrote about how my former TA, Hannah figured she was being listened to and appreciated, because, as she said, “I get invited to a lot of meetings.” That story prompted this response from a reader:
“I remember very vividly one early morning when I was working in the Executive Office, and Governor Granholm appeared in my office to ask something about the weekly radio address that she was recording later that morning. Writing the radio address was my responsibility, and I answered her question adequately but not comprehensively… She said, ‘Well X [omitting name], how about you show some leadership on this?’ And then she left. Whatever the issues was, it was not exactly in my lane. But that didn’t matter to her, and her point was that it shouldn’t have mattered to me. She wanted her staff to be doers and leaders in whatever we did, for the good of our efforts for the state. If you see an issue, show some leadership and take care of it! That point stuck with me, and I actually make the same exhortation pretty regularly now…”
I forwarded this response to my wife (the above-referenced Governor Granholm), and she replied, “There’s another lesson embedded in that comment: I had no idea that a simple remark like that would have a long term impact.” But she remembered a story in her early professional life: “I’m sure the partner at Townley & Updike doesn’t remember the exchange with me about the coin on the copier.” Back in 1985, this law partner told her a story about his approach to ethics, and in the thirty ensuing years she and I have each recounted that lesson — tens if not hundreds of times. She concluded: “Amazing how these small examples end up figuring so prominently into one’s life.”
Hence the title for today: “Leaders are big – but forget it.” The little things we say can really sink in when we have some authority, and especially when we have had little contact with a subordinate who may well be far down the chain from us. The “big person’s” power magnifies the impact of their criticism and/or their challenge. For example, I remember Senator Carl Levin on a conference call asking with what seemed like considerable irritation: “Who wrote all this purple language, anyway?” Man, was I glad I wasn’t physically in the room, with all eyes upon me, as I mumbled my confession, “Sir, I wrote that brief.” I am 1000% certain Senator Levin today has ZERO recollection of that encounter.
Governors and Senators, Dads and Moms and Teachers and Rabbis and CEOs and Directors…forget the incredible power they have in a few choice words.
The long comment from the reader spotlights an area of opportunity. Authorized leaders have enormous power to challenge their followers to rise to the occasion! Gov Granholm said, “Step up” to that then-young man who now leads others…with the same powerful language. Leaders have a unique ability to encourage people to step up. Are you using all your capacity to do so?
Invite leadership as you
Lead with your best self!