What's the Impact of Connection on YOUR Leadership Journey?
In the summer of 1976, my mom was a free-lance reporter for CBC radio and my Dad was a teacher at the local trade school. We had recently purchased an extended cabin Ford truck and an accompanying camper to go on top. We set out on the road in June right after school ended. I was 8 and my brother Chris was 5. The plan was to drive across Canada, down from Vancouver to California, across the US to Florida and back up the east coast to Newfoundland in time to start the new school in September. We were young enough that we made friends easily where ever we went. The routine that my parents had for the trip was that they would get us up around 4 am and tuck us into the back seat of the extended cab with sleeping bags and pillows where we would continue sleeping for the majority of the travel that day. My Dad could get eight hours of driving in and have us to the next camp site by noon. That way we would have a lot of the day to swim, play and explore the next town or historic site. That meant that we got pretty good at making fast friends with the people we met at the pool or the playground before we packed up and headed out early the next morning.
Truth be told, I don’t really remember much about that summer in the first person. Most of my memories are ingrained from stories that have been told and retold over the last 40 years. What seems to be consistent is that my Mom and Dad would let us go off to the pool or the playground on our own (probably because they were in need of a nap after all the travel and safety hadn’t been invented yet). I would get my brother Chris to handle most of the intros and goad him into getting information or get the conversation started. Once he established contact – I would move in and we had a reputation of not only telling our life stories to the kids (or adults) that we met – but we would also get their life stories in return. My Mom often speaks of coming to find Chris and I late in the afternoon at the pool and the people around us telling her how much fun they had chatting with us and getting to know us.
It’s hard for me to say at this stage in my life whether a lot of who I am and how I connect with others had its roots in that summer or if it just gave Chris and I a chance to hone our skills in this area. So it really is a natural instinct for me to make fast friends, connect, and get their story. As the years have gone by, I have settled down on the number of times that I do get engaged with others – specifically on planes as I just need the down time from all the of meetings and travel we do. Having said that – I ended up breaking that rule on the flight from Charlotte to Lexington and I am delighted I did.
I was seated next to a woman that looked like she was in her late 70s or early 80s. We started chatting almost from the moment we sat down. I had a sixth sense that she was a very unique, sweet, smart and caring person. For some reason I could not help but think that someday (the good Lord willin’) that could be me being mistaken for old, naïve and frail rather than the strong, confident, passionate person I feel I am in my late forties. I was right and by the time we landed – she had my business card and she said she would email me so we could stay in touch. She was my new friend from Lexington and that if I ever found my way back to Kentucky I was to look her up and we would go see a University of Kentucky basketball game (she has season tickets). Here is what I found out about my new friend….
- She married her husband 59 years ago. She grew up in Connecticut, travelled all around the world but lived in Kentucky most of her life
- She met her husband in college. They were married by one of their professors in a barn while the professors children sang and played the piano to “here comes the bride”
- He was Jewish and she was catholic. Their parents basically disowned them for most of their married life and she claims this is what formed the basis of their successful marriage. They only had each other to rely on, forsaking all others, and it made their relationship strong...59 years strong
- She started out studying to be a veterinarian but after the first few times seeing animals being put down she decided it wasn’t for her. She went on to get her Ph.D. and was a professor for her whole career
This wonderful woman’s message to me throughout our forty five minutes together was to enjoy this time in our lives. Now that she is retired with her distinguished career behind her, her kids grown and watching her grandchildren embark on their college years, she talked of how people look at her….treat her…as if she was never young…as if she was always old. Not only did she break away from her family to marry the person she loved, but she went on to get a PH.D., to raise her family, to care for her husband who was also a professor and to live all over the world (including time in Cairo where her son lived for a time). Now here she was on a plane with the flight attendant giving her a hard time over turning off her free cell device from radio shack and treating her as if she did not know what she was talking about. She took it all in stride and actually said she liked to milk the fact that at her age – most young people did not expect much from her. Nothing could be further from the truth. Take it from me as her newest friend!
So what does all this have to do with our leadership journey? I believe that in this point in our history, the lives of “ordinary” people are being chronicled like never before. History has favored the famous, but for the most part, how each of us experiences life and how we are touched by events has not had the visibility that we have today through technology and social media. As leaders, this time in our lives…the prime of our lives…is when our stories are told and should be told…to not only capture who we are right now...but what we want to be remembered for. It is through this connection and understanding that we learn more and we are able to lead with more authenticity.
Leadership Questions of the Week for YOU: “What is the story of your most recent connection or interaction with a stranger?” “What did you learn about them and yourself that you would want to capture and remember from it?” “Why do you think that we are able to connect so easily with some people as fast friends and with others we have known a long time we do not ever connect?” “How important is connection in our leadership journey?” “Fast forward to your 80’s, how would you want to be remembered or have YOUR story told?
Thanks for reading and remember...YOU make a difference!
Please continue the conversation by liking…commenting or sharing this article. You can also follow me on twitter @marciedwhite