Leading from the Middle
We were in line to board Southwest flight to Memphis when she said, "Look! You're the leader!" She had noticed that my boarding position was at the beginning of our section. And though we were well back in the line, I was the first in our group.
I laughed, "Clearly I'm just a guy in line. But, I'll do my best to get this little group onto the plane."
Later that day a young friend called. She was a little frustrated about the lack of leadership opportunities at work. I'd asked her if she'd ever seen the Heinz Beans commercial featuring the two brothers from "Charlie, You Bit My Finger" fame. I'd been thinking about it since that minute boarding the plane. She asked, "What do beans have to do with this?" Well, it goes like this: Charlie is not very good at the things his big brother, Tom, finds important. Want to play hide and seek? Charlie is easy to find. Have a favorite toy? Bet Charlie can break it. Need to finish your homework assignment? Can't help you there. Hey, how about practicing your soccer kick on goal? You'll do great because Charlie can't stop you. But Tom rolls with the ups and downs of the relationship. Maybe that's because they're brothers. Maybe. But what's more likely is that the big brother sees his time with Charlie as a chance to develop him up; to lead him, to nurture him. How do I know that? Well, he gives him part of his dinner in an effort to "grow him up a bit". (WATCH THE COMMERCIAL)
Life is like that. Not everyone we live with, play with, work with or serve with is up to our speed or level of proficiency at a task. But that's okay if you see things the same way Tom does.
You see, the world is not about the Tom. It's about Charlie. If we take the Tom's approach to work it might look like this:
Give people a chance - Tom plays with him, experiences life with him and despite the failures or disappointments they move on to the next thing together. Have a sense of humor - Tom presents the problem that Charlie breaks his toys as the toys being afraid of Charlie. How's that for spinning it positive? Want to keep Charlie from playing with things he's apt to break? Tell him the toys are afraid of him.
Bring people along - Tom shows Charlie what area of the practice goal to defend. He's probably told him dozens of times. He does again. He's only a little disappointed. He knows that with practice, Charlie will catch up. Come with me – Tom is older, wiser and can move along at a better pace. But instead of yelling at Charlie to pedal faster, he himself circles back on his bike until Charlie appears to catch up. He keeps things moving in the right direction. Okay, in the real world there will be times when people fail and need to move on to something else. But until then, the old saying that nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care should be our verse.
Tom models that for us. He shows that we should invest ourselves in the wellbeing of others - even if that means giving away some of our beans.
Think about who the leader is in this commercial. It’s Tom, right? Sure Mom is in the background, but Charlie isn’t taking his direction from her. He’s enamored with the older brother. Tom knows how to do things, things that seem Charlie wants and perhaps even needs to be able to do. It's like that at work. Sometimes we're so anxious for leadership opportunities, or to be Charlie's Mom if you will, that we overlook the ones working right next to us. We're Tom to somebody, and nobody appreciates our leadership more than Charlie.