Great Leaders gain authority by giving it away.
James B. Stockdale
#3 The Law of Process: Leadership skill is built one day at a time.
#12 The Law of Empowerment-Empower others to lead.
I don’t recall a great deal about my second and third grade years regarding lessons in leadership. When I got to fourth grade, however, something very interesting happened. I don’t know whether my tendency to refuse to judge a “book by its cover” comes from being a Libra or if it is some other thing that drives me to cheer for the underdog. A new girl came to my school that year and it seemed that very few of the fellow children welcomed her. I felt sorry for her as I just didn’t understand why they didn’t reach out to her, welcome her? It didn’t seem fair. So, by November, I made a special effort to befriend her. It was shortly after my ninth birthday. Our family economics were a struggle. No more dance lessons, no more piano lessons. My dad was working in another city and we only saw him every several months. We would move if/when he found steady work. So when I got my one birthday present, I was thrilled at just how awesome it was. She was a tall, beautiful Ballerina doll. She must have been 18 inches high, and she had an amazing white tutu like the Swan Lake costume. Her wrists and ankles, elbows, knees and shoulders, waist and neck all had moveable joints allowing me to pose her in arabesques and other beautiful moves. She was as stunning as my big sister, who could do all of those poses too. Some day, when we were all together again, and when we could have ballet lessons again, I, too, would be that graceful. She was the second doll I owned. My other dolly was a Thumbelina baby doll with a cloth body, now quite worn.
When I was invited to this new girl’s house to play for the first time, I wanted her to know she was special and that I honored her to such an extent that I brought my most valuable possession with me-my ballerina doll. We had a wonderful time, the three of us. When I returned home, I realized I forgot to bring my doll with me. No problem, I would simply ask my new best friend to bring it to school the next day.
Next day came, and oops, she forgot. Next day came again, and oops, forgot again. I never saw the doll ever again. It took me months to actually realize what had happened as I begged her daily and hoped in sadness that I hadn’t misjudged her so badly. I didn’t want to believe that she actually stole it. I beat myself up for bringing it to her house. I blame myself for forgetting it. I think that I was so ashamed of the whole situation that I never spoke to a teacher or my mom or anyone about it. I felt so victimized by her, and again, relentlessly abused my own esteem for stupidity, bad judgement, forgetfulness, incredulity, naivete, etc. I was horrified that my mom would find out that what they sacrificed to give that to me was lost. I was so careless about the gift, I was sure that I would never deserve another. I lived at school in distress every time I looked at her. At home, I lived in terror my mom would find out.
Over the years, I have revisited and worked on this incident. It definitely colored by trust levels in people I was willing to give authority to, over the years. I adopted a protective nature to my stuff, and the event added to a mountain of evidence supporting my fear of lack. If I am to truly become the leader I can be, I must explore on a day-to-day basis, what little beliefs I have, that I can process, to help me in the daily progress required to grow in the way a leader must. A true leader develops effectiveness over her lifetime in moments, in the same way the above story developed, day by day, an ineffective set of behaviors. Undoing the mistaken beliefs adopted from childhood experience can happen in an instant. Yet we must still grow day by day toward the integration and application of the irrefutable laws.
There were many times in organizations I have led, where I sought to empower the weak by helping them fix their weaknesses. While I would repeatedly say: My job is to make myself dispensable, by helping you understand how to guide yourself. I mentally knew that great leaders empower others-I had not known the critical distinction I now believe Maxwell has helped me learn. I empowered them to follow me. I did not empower them to lead themselves. My ballerina thief was never confronted by anyone in authority about her actions. I have no idea who she was, or how her life turned out. I have no idea whether she developed accountability. I, however, day by day, engage the Law of Process, with the specific noble intent to become the best leader of myself, raise the lid of my leadership skills by discovering the micro-flaws in my consciousness and the macros-and speak up to someone in authority about it. My unconscious little thief who stole my trust, my dream, my symbols of grace and beauty, has been caught.
And I do still have Thumbelina.