Updated: Jun 26, 2020
“If you love them, they will follow you anywhere,” the great advice I received in my undergraduate days, preparing for student teaching middle schoolers. I carried that particular morsel of wisdom with me into every experience on the road from then to now. People do crazy things for love. People do crazy things when they know they are loved. Early in my career, I realized that I was not the smartest person in the room. Realizing that was not a disappointment, at all. I never wanted to be the smartest. I wanted to see other people do what they were made to do. As a leader, manager, and coach, one of the best moments in my day is when I see someone live up to their own potential. That’s the essence of dispositional leadership. Loving people into their potential. It takes a healthy amount of humility to be the person that encourages other people to step up, and brings people back in line when they step out.
One of the reasons why “For She Who Leads” has been so well received is that it’s written from the female perspective--honoring my own femininity, and that of the women leading around me. Femininity is not a sign of weakness. When women lead, authentically, we are able to exert a level of influence that is rooted in raising up people to a higher level of _____________ (fill in the blank). The wisdom I brought into the middle school classroom is just as true today--and I saw that more often with the male leaders that I worked alongside in business.
What I realized is that many male leaders thrived and flourished in the presence of a strong woman, comfortable in her femininity. I witnessed young people (and not so young people) demonstrate little vulnerabilities and open up to encouragement and suggestion. I call these the “Small Strides” that people around me were taking to step up into big roles. Some of you may not know this, but in my early career, I worked with young people exclusively, as a youth leader and mentor. In the course of 15 years, all those kids have grown up. I witnessed many of their “Small Strides” and gave them opportunities to speak up, step up, and try out leadership for themselves. Now, they are grown ups, with grown up jobs and families of their own.
Working with young people was never as easy as setting up pizza and putting on YouTube. It was a daily battle, fought with humility and Small Strides, as big challenges like teenage suicide, understanding divorce, unplanned pregnancy, questions about sexuality, and self-harm plagued these kids, at home or at school. When a young person would intentionally set out to discover an answer, change a behavior, or ask for help, that was considered a win. I wasn’t the answer giver. I wasn’t the wound healer. I was in a position of leadership, as a person with the disposition of helping them, that allowed for mentoring and teaching to be an authentic extension of who I was created to be as a person. Dispositional leadership can be heavy. And sustaining dispositional leadership requires a person to take the wins whenever they can.
Mentoring and sponsoring are two ways that my preparation as a dispositional leader carried me into professional interactions and outside of the jeans-clad world of youth working. A few tips:
Don’t feel like you have to know everything. You will never know anything. Be open to mentorship from someone who knows just a little more than you do.
Finding a mentor is a good start. Start looking for someone serving in the organization. Watch and learn. Then ask to be mentored. The people serving have the greatest influence.
When you reach a level of influence in the organization, use that influence to serve others. Pick up people along the way.
At the peak of influence, at the C-suite and Board level, look around. Who is NOT there yet? Intentionally seek out someone to bring in, to sponsor, and allow for your own dispositional leadership to help them carve out a path to step up.
Dispositional leadership isn’t complicated, but it is drenched in humility. The biggest influence we can have is in helping others recognize their true potential.