Emerging to lead
Updated: Jan 7, 2019
Are you a fan of the reality show Survivor? It's one of my longtime favorites. In a recent episode, after the customary family and friends' visit to bolster and encourage the remaining survivors, one of the contestants professed how seeing her mother on the island was a turning point in her game. She reflected that she'd spent her entire adult life anxiously seeking her mother's input, approval, and reassurance for all her decisions. Seeing her mom triggered an epiphany: she’d also been hiding behind her allies in the game of Survivor, seeking comfort and their protection rather than confidently playing the game for herself.
Now more aware of herself, she embraced her own will to win. The power of experience, distance, and reflection helped her see that she'd grown strong enough to hear and listen to her own voice while playing the game - and she liked it! She grew clear and solid in her strategy. She grew comfortable and ready to risk loss and to stand by her judgement come what may. It was a moving moment: a self-respecting, self-directing leader emerged from hiding! More beautiful was seeing her voted off the island for the move she’d proposed, but leaving 100% happy that she now knew and had been true to herself.
The second item that completely captivated my attention was today's news of a solo British yachtswoman adrift at sea, now waiting to be rescued in her storm-wrecked boat. She’s the youngest competitor and only female in this year’s 30,000 mile Golden Globe Race, a race around the world by boat. She was out at sea alone, alone, all alone! More than halfway through the race and in fourth place, she encountered a powerful storm. I can’t imagine what she felt as the wind and waves battered her spirit and her ship in the darkness of night. I might have lost my mind! When the storm subsided, only the hull and the deck of her boat remained intact. Thankfully, she was alive and uninjured, still able to communicate, and help is now on the way.
To some, she may have “failed” her quest: she didn’t complete the race or win it, and she had to be rescued. Though she kept her wits about her through this enormous test, once she could communicate, she acknowledged to the world that she was “totally and utterly gutted.” Admitting defeat, she accepted the help of a rescue ship. Waiting for her rescuers through another dark evening, she tweeted “THAT WAS A LONG NIGHT” as she regained her composure. Surely she’ll be processing it all for some time to come.
Thinking of these women, I'm reminded of one of my favorite quotes: "A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for." If we don't risk new adventures, we don't grow- and we surely weren't born to be docked ships! Leadership isn’t an inheritance, nor an entitlement of age or tenure. It doesn’t begin with a job title, a promotion, or an externally vested authority, though it might appear so. When we stop hiding from ourselves and acknowledge our needs, our beliefs, our voice, our abilities, our fears, and our mission-- in short, when we begin leading ourselves-- a real leader emerges and the real adventure begins.
People follow leaders who embrace vulnerability, risk authenticity, and emerge courageously from the shadows. Leading isn't about glory, it's about impact. True leaders operate in alignment with their values, recognize their interdependence on others, but also test and refine their own ideas and voice. True leaders relish challenges, ask for help, decide, attempt, succeed, or fail, and live with the consequences of their choices. Studying leadership or attending classes isn't enough to lead well. Successful leaders reflect on their process and their results, win or fail. They stand up powerfully, influentially, and inspirationally when they accept the call to lead. They show up. They unfold, uncover, test, and evolve their thinking, their stamina, their strategy. They reveal their character and their heart, and they earn followers along the way. By mastering themselves and by showing themselves, they emerge ready to lead.