Leadership and Seventh Grade – Are You Ready

At the beginning of every class, I literally throw Kudos to students. (Tragically M&M Mars is discontinuing the not-so-tasty food bar, so I’m open to suggestions of new prize tosses.) I especially look for new insights or for people going outside the safety zones that invisibly hold them in.

Last week I asked (again): Do any of you want to hand out any Kudos?  Warm human faces morphed rather quickly yet imperceptibly into expressionless mannequin-like figures.  In a class the next day, I repeated the experiment and got the same results.

I asked them why. I always worry that my “why’s” inspire fear and guilt or shame, so I tried to explain: I’m not accusing or angry. I’m deeply curious and hope you are, too?  I framed the question more elaborately like this:

“You have all done an exercise to write your top 3 values, and I am sure that some of you wrote things like ‘kindness,’ ‘love,’ ‘care,’ and some wrote things like ‘creativity’ and ‘excellence’ — and you know from our studies that positivity and encouragement spur creativity and excellence.”  I continued, “So, all of these things, these motivating values would incline you to speak words of encouragement to classmates, to share Kudos with others.  Yet no one speaks.  So, my hypothesis is then, that there is some other “value” that’s acting like a check, canceling out your inclination to speak positive words to others. What is that you — or I should say we — value more?”

One person said that she wasn’t sure her encouraging words would be well-received, that the classmates were still new to each other. “Ah, so there’s a kind of danger, or a lack of safety?” I asked. And she nodded affirmatively. I was especially taken by another woman’s explanation, for it demonstrated honesty and real vulnerability. She said, “I don’t want to appear too eager. I worry that others already think I much talk too much and I’m too into it.” Personally, I think she nailed the basic human (and even pre-human) wiring:  Your peers can be dangerous and can push you out of the safety of the tribe, the herd, the pack. So lay low!

And THAT is the greatest hurdle to unleashing everyday leaders. And that may be the greatest hurdle to each one of us, leading with our best self. What will the other (see title above — seventh graders) think of me? That I think I know everything? That I think I’m the teacher’s pet? The boss’ favorite? That I’m different?  That I’m better?

I find Brene Brown’s prescription so marvelously elegant and perfectly on point.  It’s a message we can share with ourselves, at times we’re aware we’re holding back. She writes:  “Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. Stand your sacred ground.”  The sacred ground is where we call ourselves and others to something better, something great, something life-giving.  It’s the place from which you can

Lead with your best self,