Note: This was originally published on July 17, 2011
If you want to lead better, and who doesn’t, then you know that leading is about helping others to produce their best, right? The most powerful leaders are not those who lead millions, but those, whom the vast majority of people talk about when asked about who most powerfully influenced them: They are moms and dads, supervisors and managers, coaches and teachers, pastors or youth group leaders. You might say about your formative leaders – as I would about Fr. Canfield, Mr. Boes (my first good little league coach), Tom (my first supervisor in a hamburger joint), Sister Noel, or Mary Zatina (who supposedly worked “for” or “under” me), that they helped you to identify what you had to offer, they “named” you, or they helped you to “find your voice.” They did this through a very specific compliment about something you did, brought, or were.
Your “voice” is a personal thing. It’s your brand. Your uniqueness. Your calling. Your best and highest gift and your passion. One of my friends was chiding her husband at dinner last night about how hard he works; they’re both in their mid-60s. He smiled and said, “Dear, it took me to my mid-50s to find what I loved, and now I just want to do more and more of it.” What an awesome thing to find your niche, your calling, your voice. Finding his voice, his gifts was like opening the world to a treasure trove of riches.
I’ve been finding my voice in a much more literal way – through voice lessons. I was sharing this week with my new teacher how much joy I feel in singing (and like my friend who found his voice, it’s taken me to 53 years old to fully lay claim to that). She remarked: “In some countries like Ireland and Ethiopia everyone sings. It’s abnormal not to, while here, people think they have to be special to sing.” We agreed that it’s because voice – literal or in the figurative way I was discussing above – is so just personal. And let me bring us back to leadership – first to crushing leadership. When we are told our singing – or speaking, our ideas, opinions, or important work – are “flat, off key, we shouldn’t sing; they’re weird, crazy, etc.,” we NEVER forget it. One idle remark and we are silenced. I’ll bet hundreds if not thousands of the people reading RFL today have a distinct memory of a time they were told they couldn’t sing, act, hit a ball, write, act, draw, be creative, ever get elected, etc. And from that point forward for the vast majority, it was: “Monkey’s dead. Show’s over.”
The research in many fields says it takes 5 positives to compensate for 1 negative remark. When it comes to the very personal – our literal voice, or a budding identity, I suspect the ratio is more like 50 or 100:1. So, there is a TON of work to do to help unleash people’s passions, have confidence in their budding voice, find their unique strengths and beliefs.
So today you might look for a way to comment on and compliment somebody’s voice. It’s a way that you can:
Lead with your best self,