I occasionally go to a conference, hear a really excellent keynote, and say “I want to be that person when I grow up.” Examples include Malcolm Gladwell, Parker Palmer, and Anne Lamott. I don’t mean that I want to be exactly like them, but rather that there are aspects of their leadership that I would like to emulate in my own way.
I’d like to see the connections between ideas the way Gladwell does. I’d like to have the common-sense spirituality of Lamott, and to be able to express it through my writing the way she can. And when I grow up I’d like to be the kind of respected elder that Palmer has become.
But here’s the catch. If I want to be a respected elder, who represents a lifetime of kindness, generosity, and wisdom, I can’t get there by doing exactly the same things he did. It’s not possible, and even if it was we are different people. Just like all leaders, we approach things in different ways and learn different lessons from the same event.
What I can do is learn from their leadership lessons and figure out how to apply it to my own leadership journey. Do I like to make connections between ideas? Then I’d better read a lot and see what other smart people have to say, to learn what ideas are out there and how they apply to my life. Do I admire someone’s writing ability? Then I should take her advice and practice writing – a lot. Do I admire how someone shows up in the world? Then I should evaluate my own choices and behaviors to see if they reflect those values.
Being an authentic leader is something we each have to do on our own, but there are many teachers along the way.
Who do you want to be when you grow up?
Dee Anne Bonebright