I had the opportunity this past week to preside over the annual conference of a national women’s organization for which I currently serve as national chairman. It was a whirlwind of hard work, good dialogue, much celebration and very little sleep.
Although I had been to this conference and participated in committee and regional leadership positions before, it was quite different being the ‘buck stops here’ leader. I got quite a different perspective presiding over business sessions, rapping that gavel, calling for the vote, giving speeches, announcing new goals and listening to so many comments about what members want and need.
Here are some of the things I took away this week as a leader and as a writer/speaker:
People want their leaders to speak up.
Of course people want their ideas to be heard. But they also want their leader to be decisive and have their own ideas. More often than not, members of a group would rather respond to a specific leader directive (yay or nay) than be told by their leader: “Well, whatever you want to do…” Ideally, an organization can benefit from integrating the ideas of leadership and of members at large.
People want their leaders to listen.
Sometimes people just want to know that you understand them and will think about what they’re staying or suggesting. Even if you don’t agree or decide not to proceed with the idea, members feel respected when they feel heard.
Your main message or vision must be articulated well, if people are going to buy into it.
You could have the greatest idea in the world but if you or your representatives can’t convey that idea well, can’t share the message with conviction and power, no one is going to feel compelled to do anything about it. They’re not going to take ownership of it unless it connects with them inwardly in a significant way. So a leader must not only speak fairly well and be clear in presenting their idea, but they also have to show their own personal connection to the idea and why it matters to them. That will help others see how the idea or vision pertains to them as well.
If you’re not passionate about what you’re saying/doing, it shows.
One thing that I appreciate about the organization I lead is that it incorporates a lot of the different parts of who I am, and thus I feel strongly about the group and its role in our community. I am passionate about what it does and what it has the potential to do for women and families around the world. Fortunately, so my members tell me, that passion shows. They have often commented that my sincerity and conviction when speaking motivates them to do more in their local chapters and communities to achieve our collective goals. That is hugely satisfying for me. Whatever we feel or don’t feel, it will show.
You can’t please everybody.
Leaders are usually in office only a short amount of time. They have to prioritize because they can’t accomplish everything they set out to do, and they can’t respond to everyone’s requests. They have to be selective. And that’s all right — the finite nature of elected leadership positions forces us to think hard about what matters most and pursue it with urgency and heart.
Leaders, artists, writers — all of us are helped by the perennial questions we’ve all heard:
What would you do if you knew you had a month to live? If you knew this was the last novel/story/book/play you were going to write, what would you want it to say? What do you want your epitaph to say?
When we ask such questions, it helps us refine what matters most to us, what goals are most important to us, what overall purpose touches us most deeply, what ‘story’ we feel we MUST tell. Whether we are leading an organization, a family, a theater troupe, or any other group, we have to remember to act, speak and listen, with our whole mind and heart, to get our story across and to get others to come alongside on our journey.
This blog post was originally published on July 7, 2014 but has certainly remained true in my recent work with the same organization, which is why I wanted to share it with those who may not have seen it before.