Thanks for being my guide

Inspired by an end-of-year speech, I went looking for images of leadership this morning. I agree with Friday’s speaker: those images don’t speak to my thoughts on what a true leader is, either; but maybe not for the same reasons.

Me, I like this one: Parent leading the child. Not by pulling; but rather by guiding, showing a path while letting the child explore and find her own way. Ready to catch her when she falls, there for a word of encouragement, available to answer questions, a constant resource, and throwing out new challenges as soon as the last one is accomplished.

A good parent has only the best wishes for their child. High, though attainable, expectations are a sign of love, so the parent shares their dreams and visions for the future, offers guidance on how the child will get there. Though the parent doesn’t judge (or at least shouldn’t), they are sometimes are just a little scary.

“I’m a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn’t have the heart to let him down.” — Abraham Lincoln

And this, to me, is the essence of good leadership. As Seth Godin, wrote in  Raising the Average, it’s important for organizations to bring in people who raise the bar for everyone else, who are “so good she scares me”.

Being scared does not have to mean that the leader is scary. These are different things. Being scared may just mean that you don’t know how or why to get there, wherever “there” is. The job of that leader, the guide, the parent, if you will, is to help the rest of us understand the why and the how, to help each of us identify and honor the strengths that we bring to the group, to be the kindling that gets the campfire started.

Tricia Friedman talked about this in her phenomenal Learning2 talk this year. If you haven’t watched it, please take a look here.  Also, check out her amazing blog and follow her on twitter.

I’ve had the good fortune of learning from Tricia this year, as have so many people around me. It took us (me) a while to realize that us (me) being scared does not mean that she is scary. I’ve watched her encourage, suggest, guide, bring together, offer resources to so many. She has created the tide that is bringing change to our school. She brought us Kahoot! and blogging in English classes, apparently some dance moves, too. She leaves behind a cadre of people excited to use blogs across the curriculum, kindling bearers who are beginning to understand the power of technology to connect people, to model empathy, to find and share ideas, to build a campfire.

I feel my boots trying to leave the ground, I feel my heart pumping hard. I want to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing, as though I had wings.

–Mary Oliver, Starlings in Winter

Osprey Chicks by Evangello Gonzalez
Osprey Chicks by Evangello Gonzalez

The parent knows that the child must eventually spread her wings and fly away, and so provides the tools necessary for the child to grow and eventually the fear subsides. As the child makes that leap, the parent steps back, and watches with pride as her now-not-so-little one moves on with confidence.

Tricia, we are ready. Thank you so much for the inspiration and guidance. You leave us better than we were, a lot less scared, and a lot better equipped to be the kindling for our own campfire.

Thank you Flickr for the beautiful images.

Cover photo: Leader?? by Subharnab Majumdar


One thought on “Thanks for being my guide

  1. Valerie,
    I’m speechless. In the place of my own words I will substitute a quote from Paul Kalanithi’s memoir “When Breath Becomes Air.”

    “Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and it is still never complete.”

    I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to have learnt with you.


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