A note from Switch and Shift’s editor: Leadership lessons are often folded into life’s events. It’s simply a matter of stopping long enough to observe what is offered to us no matter the event. Achim reminds us all of this simple truth using the violence at a school in Decatur, Georgia.
I never watch Anderson Cooper. Yet last week Thursday, right after 8 pm, something made me turn the switch to CNN.
Within minutes I was riveted. Inspired. And moved to tears.
Anderson Cooper was interviewing Antoinette Tuff, the bookkeeper at the Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, GA. Tuff’s conduct during her 911 call on August 22, while a gunman with an AK-47-style assault rifle and 500 rounds of ammo was on a wild tear through the school, was an astounding act of leadership. Her demeanor likely prevented a Sandy-Hook-style massacre.
When Anderson Cooper asked Tuff and McKray, who joined the interview, for insights about their response during this high-wire act, I was struck by the common-sense simplicity of their answers.
Their words are pearls of everyday leadership wisdom. Two nuggets, in particular, resonated with me.
For Tuff, this meant holding on to her faith. In the business world, our ability to anchor and consistently re-anchor ourselves is an attribute of exceptional leaders. What anchors each of us tends to be very personal. It behooves every one of us to know our anchors. And then, of course, choose to remain anchored. Daily. Consciously.
It behooves every one of us to know our anchors.
Some classic anchors: Take a considered breath. Say a positive affirmation. Shift your physical posture. Visualize a beautiful place/state of being. Invoke your relationship to the divine as you define it.
Both Tuff and McKray spoke of the ability to show empathy for a person who is in extraordinary personal pain. When someone is pointing an assault rifle at you, that must seem near impossible. But Tuff managed to do just that!
Choose to be compassionate even when you don’t agree with what you hear. When you think the other party is unreasonable. When your buttons are pushed by the communication style of the other person.
Being compassionate does not mean we need to agree with the other party or refrain from stating our point-of-view. But our compassion positively impacts the flow of the conversation. Resistance fades. Forward movement is facilitated.
Choose to be compassionate even when you don’t agree with what you hear.
Tuff and McKray showed up as leaders. Anderson Cooper, in his interview, showed up as more than the media-star-host who snagged an interview with two humble women from Georgia. He allowed himself to transcend the social construct of the journalist/subject relationship. He showed up as a fellow human who was deeply stirred and elated by the heroism of his guests.
That was Anderson Cooper’s gift of everyday leadership.
Social roles can limit whom we notice or how we make sense of a person’s behavior. If we notice at all. Anderson Cooper “got it.” He understood that he was talking to two truly exceptional women. He sensed their wisdom and dignity. His interest in them was sincere, as was his delight. Cooper wholeheartedly surrendered to his conversation with Tuff and McKray. Yes, he allowed himself to transcend!
Notice exceptional leadership when it happens around you. No matter where it happens. No matter who is doing the leading. Appreciate it. Praise it. Celebrate it. Do so explicitly. Our ability to affirm an act of everyday leadership elevates the quality of life for all of us.
Notice exceptional leadership when it happens around you.
I hope none of us will face a high-stakes situation that even closely mirrors what these two exceptional women encountered. I also hope we remember that leadership sometimes is really pretty simple. It’s an act of humanity.
Art credit: Nicolas Monin-Baroille