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Leadership – The Awakening Seed of Transformation

Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Don Ussery, Associate CIO, Enterprise Applications and Data Services at the University of Arkansas. He is a current MOR program participant.  Don may be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

While working on my leadership journey presentation for a recent MOR workshop, I struggled with my starting point, an event in 10th grade. “That doesn’t belong – limit it to when you became a manager and were leading,” I told myself. However, I argued that leadership is about words and actions, specifically those that motivate others to achieve new and better outcomes. Much like that event in 10th grade, the MOR experience has profoundly affected my journey as a person and a leader, a dormant seed finally sprouting. How so, you ask?

Let me tell you a story. As a young person and well into my teens, I was severely introverted. I was the last child of elderly parents (an oops if you will). My siblings were grown when I was old enough to remember them. I was raised as an only child and so emotionally self-conscious that I could not even answer when my name was called during roll call. I had to stop by the teacher’s desk after class and announce myself. I lived in a pain-filled bubble, afraid of my own shadow. Until that day. A day that is frozen in time for me. Sitting in class that spring day, in alphabetical order by last name, sat Kathy Thomas in front of me. There was no romantic attraction, just another person I tried to stay out of the way of. But that day. I can still smell the air from the open windows and see her long brown hair whip around when she turns to face me. The smell of her honeysuckle perfume wafted in my direction (okay, perhaps a little romantic interest, but I was far too scared to act on it). She looked me directly in the eyes, pointed her finger in my face, and said the following:

“I don’t know your problem, but get over it. Nobody ignores me, and everyone says Hi to me when I say Hi to them. I said Hi to you this morning, and you just walked by. The next time I speak to you, I better hear you speak back.”

And with that, she whipped her head around, her long brown hair following; I don’t remember much after that as my world went black. I may have passed out for a moment. All I know is that I was so jolted by her words and actions that the only thing on my mind was listening for Kathy’s voice so I could speak back. I went to school the following day with a mission – I would talk to Kathy, even if I had to go first. I was motivated to do better. And I did. I spoke to her first, which caused a big smile on her face, followed by a hug (the world went black again for a second) and a:

“Hi, Don, how are you?”

The fantastic thing about that event was that I started coming out of my shell. I realized the world doesn’t end if I speak up. That was an inflection point for me. I don’t know how I would have wound up without that change. But after that day, I became much more sociable as time went on. I joined the basketball team, graduated, joined the Navy, and was off to the races. These are all actions I don’t think I would have been able to do from the protective little cocoon I had wrapped myself in before. I had the opportunity to thank Kathy for that moment years later at a high school reunion. I wanted her to know just how much that one action of hers meant to me and the profound change it made in my life. The funny part – she didn’t remember it at all. She just remembered that I was extremely shy. How funny – life-changing for me, a non-event for her.

So, how does this relate to leadership and my experience with MOR? Because words and actions can make a profound difference in a person’s life even when you don’t realize it. I don’t understand the psychological gears that went into effect when Kathy turned around in her seat. But I know that in less than 60 seconds, the direction of my life changed. I don’t understand why she was able to motivate me to do something I could not motivate myself to do. But at that moment, she became a leader. I can say something similar about this MOR experience. I’ve been to many leadership training courses in my career, but none have motivated me to improve my skills as this one has. I’m on a mission to be better. Why? Because the words and actions have inspired me to have a better outcome. I still don’t understand the psychological gears that have gone into action, but I do remember the feeling, and it is very similar to that day in 10th grade. There is energy and excitement – I feel like I’ve plugged into something I must do.

Reflecting on that day in 10th grade and what I’ve experienced so far at MOR, I realize the true essence of leadership isn’t just about management; it’s about sparking transformation. It’s about putting the potential of a seed into action, causing it to sprout and grow into what it was meant to be. Kathy, unknowingly, did that for me. Her words were a catalyst, pushing me out of my comfort zone and leading me toward growth I never imagined. Similarly, the MOR program has been my modern-day Kathy. It’s not just a leadership course; it’s a transformational journey. It has rekindled that spirit of challenge and change within me, urging me to evolve as a leader and person. I’ve learned that authentic leadership involves creating pivotal moments for others and fostering growth and potential. Just as Kathy’s words altered my trajectory, I aim to be that catalyst in the lives of those I lead. This program hasn’t just sharpened my skills; it has reshaped my desire to lead, inspire, and transform. In this newfound clarity, I find my purpose: to be the leader who doesn’t just direct and manage but sparks a transformation in others.

See you in the garden, my friends. We have seeds to tend to.

When you think of inflection points in your own leadership journey, when did the first occur?

Last week we asked which of these self-management habits you feel is most useful as related to building confidence:

  • 34% said eliminate negative self-talk
  • 20% said seek honest feedback
  • 17% said celebrate success AND failure
  • 15% said practice a growth mindset
  • 14% said keep a confidence journal of what worked and what didn’t

As Don described so wonderfully in today’s reading, words can be catalysts. It’s great if we have someone like Kathy in our lives to provide that catalyst when we need it, to provide honest feedback, as one in five readers identified in this week’s survey. However, there’s someone identified by even more of us – ourselves. The vast majority of us identified how we talk to ourselves can greatly impact our confidence, whether through eliminating negative self-talk, considering a growth mindset, keeping a confidence journal, or celebrating your successes and failures.  If you’re looking to build your confidence, consider your self-talk. And if you’re interested in building confidence in others, consider how you talk to them, find a way to be their Kathy. We have seeds to tend to.