When influence is used in constructive ways – people applaud. Literally.
One of the most stunning and very public examples of poise was witnessed by 25,000 basketball fans a few years ago. It’s likely millions have seen it by now.
From Jeers to Cheers
Picture a lovely and nervous teen girl in a strapless evening dress as she tentatively approaches a microphone in front of a big crowd at the Portland Rose Garden Arena. She stood between the fans and the game start to sing the national anthem. When the teen faltered for words many in the crowd began to jeer. Judgment was swift and cruel.
Portland Trailblazers head coach Maurice Cheeks saw a need. He recognized talent in trouble and walked quickly to her side. Then, he provided her the words she needed…singing along…so she could finish the anthem. (See video here.) The crowd exploded with raucous cheers, a standing ovation and applause.
What an instructive and thoughtful example. Although it wasn’t part of his job or an expectation, while someone else could have helped, he acted. The crowd was thrilled by his leadership. Grounded in compassion, he acted in behalf of another and demonstrated grace. It was a kind and simple thing to do. It served far more than the trembling singer.
Modest and Brave
Just a few week ago, the death of a “decent” guy captured the mourning hearts of a nation. A playwright, Vaclav Havel, challenged the Czechoslovak Communist regime. An authentic sense of personal responsibility was Havel’s motivation. As leader of a dissident movement, reflective editorials indicate he talked constantly of “the need to live according to morality, conscience, and responsibility” as well as “the dangers of racism and corruption.”
While the expectations Havel set didn’t endear him to others in the beginning. Observers say he was the first to admit his own flaws. He also showed a “synthesis of modesty and bravery” as well as “freedom from pride, hatred and fanaticism.” Eventually Havel became a deeply beloved president and was known worldwide for his perspectives. His most famous essay is The Power of the Powerless. A Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Havel authored more than 20 plays and books.
A Decent Guy
The Toronto Star eulogized him. “Many will ask what made Havel exceptional. The answer is simple: decency. He was a decent principled man.” Havel fought against “an indecent, immoral system.” And, he governed without personal gain in mind. His “first commitment was to common decency and the common good, not to holding power.”
While none of us is likely to coach an NBA team or be president, everyone can take important actions.
- Speak up when you witness an inequity or oppression,
- Make the effort to remark on capable behavior or initiative that would go unnoticed,
- Welcome a chance to offer an enthusiastic letter of reference, and
- Sit (or stand) with a person in distress.
These are small opportunities for your influence. Leaders lift others up. They often redistribute power. Although you may not be stage center, provide a leadership example we’re all hungry to see. Even if you don’t hear it – many will applaud.
-Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com