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“Even the shyest of people will influence at least 10 000 others in their lifetime.”
– John Maxwell

 

I’m going to tell you about a personal experience and realisation I’ve had which I think applies to everyone who wants to call themselves leaders.

I think it is difficult to call yourself a leader unless you keep a few points in mind that I’ll be mentioning here.

I would like to paint a picture for you

Do you remember a time in your life that situations and people so easily influenced you that you almost didn’t know how you were supposed to be?

During elementary school, I was a bit of a wimp and didn’t know how to stick up for myself. Gosh. I always tried to find some image of what or who I wanted to be.

I guess some of you might know what I’m talking about, or know of someone like that. An embarrassing little truth: I’ve tried to imitate some people in public, even those on TV or movies as if I’m that character. I would impersonate someone without thinking and hope for a good reaction.

My point is, I was looking for some model to follow and act like because I didn’t know yet who I was, and sadly my dad never helped me develop that part of my character much.

So, sometimes acting out these scenarios went remarkable, but more often than not it crashed and burned like the Hindenburg.

School really sucked those times.

Let’s fast-forward a couple of years

I ended up being an English school teacher in South Korea… Imagine the irony.

I knew absolutely nothing about teaching in a classroom. I tripped over myself regularly in ways that were unlike me.

Raising my voice in anger, physically moving a kid in their chair if they were not listening, literally dragging a couple of them to a Korean teacher to be scolded because I just didn’t have the communicational abilities to do it myself.

Terrible!

Frustration would mount. It was like being back in elementary school, reacting to my emotions and grabbing at some model to imitate, because I knew squat.

I was way out of my depth.

I don’t know if you consciously think or care about how you react to those around you. Maybe these people work with you or for you, but here is my point:

The point

A couple of months in I heard one of my co-workers tell a story about one of the kids she taught whose mother described how her daughter would sometimes act out a day at school during playtime.

Of course, the daughter was pretending to be the teacher.

After hearing this I would sometimes notice how kids would imitate their teachers, and it slowly dawned on me…

What if my kids act like me? I realised it’s inevitable. They would.

I was so moldable at their age, looking to imitate those characters or people I thought were cool or influential at that time. I was now this model to some other poor insecure kid, and the very least of my actions were inevitable to get stuck in their memories too.

I was starting to consider how I wanted to be remembered or even imitated. I was involuntarily leading these children.

It’s almost like being on Twitter. There are reasons why you ‘follow’ some people on twitter, and you want to act in such a way that you want others to follow you. Some people just don’t appeal to you, and in some cases the people you follow act in such a way that you want to unfollow them.

Growing up I was lucky enough to have people in my life who acted as counter-characters to the bad examples I’ve seen and who brought stability and showed me who and how I wanted to be.

These mentors demonstrated leadership at its best. Their actions made me want to follow, whether they were consciously thinking about leading or not.

It was just about who they were.

Being a good leader or having good leadership skills doesn’t come mostly from any training, but rather from practical situations. While an English teacher in Korea it dawned on me that people see me, whether I noticed it or not.

There are people around me who see my actions, and they might think of or even try to imitate them somewhere else. I’d hope to be that positive counter-character they need to demonstrate how to handle something differently.

 

Calm is Contagious

 

So now

Take a moment to imagine and see yourself outside your own life. Would you want to follow this person you are seeing?

Take a good, hard look.

Imagine a couple of recent situations you experienced.

I remember sometimes looking back at a situation and thinking that I’ve acted just like ‘person A’ right there. I never even liked person A!

Something still made an impression though, even if it was negative.

Now being in a position of influence and leadership myself, I realised with a shock the picture I might be presenting to those around me.

What do you want to show the world?

Here is a quote from Navy SEAL commander Rorke T. Denver, stating his number one leadership lesson learned in Military training:

Calm is contagious.

A couple of final thoughts
  1. What do you want people to remember you as when they look back at their memories of you? In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephan Covey names this principle as his second habit. It’s not about caring about what people think of you, but whether you’ve added value to their lives.
  2. Don’t sell your soul to others, sell your character. Instead of blindly following the day to day to-do list, think a little more about how you react toward or in front of others.
  3. Regular introspection is better than wishful thinking because it is an excellent way of becoming mindful of your actions. Don’t try and change everything at once. I learned that choosing a maximum of 2 characteristics at a time is much more productive. Trying to change everything at once will discourage you from trying during those initial failed attempts. Regularly assess how you’re doing.
  4. Ask other people. Those who see you every day see your blind spots. Opening up will require some form of humility and teachability, so don’t ask someone if you don’t honestly want to know the answer. Be prepared to hear something painful sometimes.
  5. Who do you know that embodies the results you want? This point probably counts for everything in life. In this case, who has the kind of characteristics you want? Sometimes copying their actions will set you on your way to getting results just that little bit faster.
  6. Be proactive, not reactive. Covey’s (7 Habits again) number one habit. Learn to think before walking into a situation. Sometimes it’s easier to go into a classroom expecting something to go wrong so you can prepare for the desired reaction. Think, how do I want them to see me react?

There will always be someone who sees you, even if it’s in passing. You will never go unnoticed, though it might not come from where you may think.

You’re always leading and teaching with your character.  Make it count.

 

If you have any thoughts or comments on this post, I would love to hear it.

As always, live exceptionally and keep on making a difference.

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