One of the greatest attributes a leader can have is the desire to continually develop self-awareness.
This is what we mean when we say Leading for Impact is an inside-out process. We must have an understanding of ourselves in order to live with purpose, in order to make responsible decisions, and in order to develop strong relationships with others.
But making a commitment to self-awareness can often lead us down a rabbit hole. As we examine our thoughts, feelings, and motivations, we often find plenty of questions…but not always a lot of answers.
Being a leader doesn’t mean we have all the answers. It doesn’t mean we will eliminate all self-doubt. But it does mean that in the midst of all those questions, we will look inside ourselves and choose to let our light shine to help and serve others.
Reaching Out to Radio
In the 1970’s, there was a football coach and teacher in the state of South Carolina named Harold Jones. Coach Jones befriended a young man with some disabilities whose name was James. The boy soon took on the nickname of Radio, due to his obsession with the boxes which played music.
Coach Jones invited Radio to start helping the football team by collecting the equipment and filling water bottles. Radio’s time and interaction with the team grew and grew. Some people thought Radio’s presence with the team was a distraction, especially when the team wasn’t winning as many games as people thought they should.
It's Never a Mistake to Care For Someone
Radio eventually started helping out at the school and Coach Jones spent a lot of time trying to teach Radio. He tried to help Radio learn to read and to communicate. He wanted him to have a normal life and integrate him into the school environment as much as possible. However, Coach Jones’s effort with Radio led him to spend a lot more time away from his wife and daughter than normal.
One day the star athlete at the school, Johnny, played a trick on Radio and convinced him to go in the girl’s locker room. Radio got in a lot of trouble. Yet, he refused to tell anyone that it was Johnny who told him to go in the locker room. Radio showed his true character and continued to be Johnny’s friend.
Eventually things went south when the school board decided that Radio should not be involved at the school because it was too much of a liability. Coach Jones questioned whether he had been doing the right thing. He wondered if helping Radio had been a mistake.
“It’s never a mistake to care for someone,” his wife told him.
Missing An Opportunity
Eventually Coach Jones revealed his motivation for wanting to help Radio. During a conversation with his daughter, Coach Jones told her when he was a boy he had a newspaper route. One day as he rode his bike past one of the houses on his route, he heard a noise coming from under the porch. He got off his bike to investigate and he discovered a boy who was about the same age as him. The boy was penned up under the porch behind a fence. He looked like he had some disabilities and, even as a child, Harold knew this wasn’t right.
Coach Jones told his daughter that he delivered his newspapers on that route and passed that house for two years. And he never did anything to help the boy. He was ashamed he missed an opportunity to help someone because he was scared.
So when Radio came along, he didn’t want to miss another opportunity to be a lighthouse.
A Wide Range of Emotions
Did Coach Jones feel a wide range of emotions about helping Radio? Absolutely. He became very angry when people said Radio was a distraction and that he shouldn’t be around. He was sad to think he might have to choose between coaching football and helping Radio. But being a lighthouse means understanding our responsibility to live by our principles and live with integrity trumps the emotions which run though our body.
The people in our lives need us to stand firm like a lighthouse. Part of being a lighthouse is to shine our light. This means sharing some of our scars, some of the not-so-great choices we have made, or some of the unfortunate things that have happened to us.
Small Opportunities Can Lead to a Big Impact
Having a healthy self-awareness allows us to reveal our lives aren’t perfect. We don’t always have everything completely put together. The decisions we make are not always easy.
But self-awareness can also help us understand that our struggles can make us stronger. We can choose to live by our principles and values. We can choose to rise above and overcome our obstacles.
Every day we are writing our own story with the life we live. Our story needs a hero and one of the best ways we can do that is to help and serve others.
Our lives will give us plenty of opportunities to be a hero. Some are big opportunities, but most of the time they are so small we barely notice them.
Today, we can Lead for Impact by using self-awareness to seize one of those opportunities to be a lighthouse and make a difference in the world.