A couple of weeks ago we held our leadership training camp for General Managers. It was an amazing week in which the participants worked on, well, leadership—leadership as a way of being—not a title, degree or the GM’s number of direct reports. When held in this context, leadership is measured by one’s ability and willingness to create a future that otherwise would not have occurred by being fully committed, taking responsibility, doing what one said one would do, and being authentic. This “being authentic” piece is critical.
Authentic means being honest, true and willing to show who we are–who we really are. It’s being willing to fill in this blank space: “If you really knew me, you’d know…”
It is through our common experiences of pain, loss, love and fear that we understand we are not alone. Within the telling of our stories we deepen our community of humanity, a community in which we are all flawed, all struggling, and all human. In contrast, when we think we need to lead from a pedestal of perfection, we do not, cannot connect with others, and they are not fully willing to follow us or be persuaded by us because there is nothing or no one inspiring to follow.
During our leadership training week the team developed their personal stories. These were short, powerful and moving stories, stories that we all have and which define us. It’s these stories that have written their lessons in our hearts, and have brought us to who we are today. It is through sharing these stories that we connect so strongly, so profoundly, that differences between us evaporate. When we are authentic with all that is part of us, we understand our commonness is stronger than our differences.
There were tremendous stories, and there’s one that I would like to share with you. Let’s call the teller of the story, Sam. Sam walked to the front of the room and started with something like this: “I never understood my immigrant parents’ experiences until one night at a basketball game.” Sam’s parents came to the United States from Mexico and Sam, contrary to his parents’ sporting preferences, loved basketball. Sam was so passionate about basketball that he trained to be a referee when he was in high school, and one night refereed a junior high game. In that game he made a call that the father of a player did not like. This father came onto the court, grabbed Sam by the shirt, and yelled that he should, “get the hell out of this country, and go back to Mexico to pick strawberries.” Sam said he looked up at all the people in that gymnasium and they all had white faces. He felt ashamed, alone, hurt, scared and that he did not belong.
At this point in his storytelling, Sam looked from one face to another in the room of General Manager Trainees, and he said this is what he appreciated the most within 24 Fitness: the diversity we have.
After Sam finished looking at the diverse faces in the room, the room looked back at him with tears and smiles. In that moment, Sam belonged. And he was leading. Leading by sharing his story, his hurt. Everyone in the room could see themselves in Sam’s story because we’ve all had experiences of being shamed, alone and the feeling of not belonging.
We have an amazing company in which people are drawn together to help other people change their lives, and when we are playing this game, ethnic, racial, socio-economic, sexual preference, age and diversity mean nothing.
I am grateful this Thanksgiving for the commitment, passion and caring of the truly inspiring group of people at 24 Hour who, every day, help to create a better future for people that they otherwise would not have, through face-to-face leadership.
May each of you know how much of a difference you make, through every member, every interaction, every day. Thank you for your leadership.
“Leadership is not a title.
It’s a behavior.
-Robin Sharma, writer and leadership speaker