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Lead by Listening and Championing New Leaders & New Ideas

It’s still early in the year.  As leaders, one of our key roles is to grow more leaders.  Make it a goal, starting today, to encourage all people within our teams who are demonstrating leadership skills … not just the ones with the anointed titles.  And, be on the lookout for those who have the courage to proffer ideas.  Make it a personal goal to be a champion vs. an obstacle and sooner than later you’ll be catching your limit of leadership potential in your organization.

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I boarded a flight from Charlotte to Melbourne.  The lady in front of me was very chatty and probably interesting and may have been an angel, but she smelled. So, when I noticed that there were some empty seats and that I could move and have a row to myself, I jumped at the opportunity.

As I settled in, the pilot announced that there would be delays.  During the hour that we spent sitting on the tarmac before take-off, the guy across the aisle began to talk, and talk and talk some more.  And, rather than zone out and focus on reading, I accepted the fact that I was meant to sit next to a talker and I took the cue that perhaps I was meant to be a listener.  And, so I did just that … I listened and listened some more.  And, this is what I heard …

This guy’s trade was plumbing.  He was traveling with his mom.  But as I listened and watched him interact with his mom and a mom and her two kids (and one on the way) sitting in front of us, it was as clear as day that he had a passion for family and kids.  I listened to this 32 year old talk about his life … the good, the bad and the ugly.  He talked about the way he made choices in the past, who had influenced him and the kind of person that he has been trying to be and hopes to be.

And, as I listened to him, I realized that the stories he was sharing were about leadership … about the lack of leadership that he had experienced and the void of leadership he was trying to fill for others.  He genuinely believed in the importance of people having imperfect role models.  His thoughts about that alone were blog worthy.

In his work, he was driven to lead and provide leadership opportunities for those around him.  In his community, he was driven to create opportunities for people to learn leadership skills –one step at a time.  And, he was comfortable with the idea of failure and if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again.  And, most importantly, he felt that one of his gifts was giving people a non-threatening environment to be vulnerable and talk about their mistakes.

One idea he had was to form a teen maintenance committee at his church and teach a volunteer group of teens basic maintenance skills so that the kids could learn handy skills and learn the power of doing good, of lending a helping hand and not expecting anything in return.  This project would encourage some of the “grown ups” who knew plumbing, carpentry, electrical, gardening, etc. to get involved, mentor the kids and build real relationships with the teens.  He felt that many of these men and women who were excellent at their trades had so much to offer the kids in terms of leadership, values and work ethic but were uncomfortable in a “Sunday school” format, so it would be a win-win for both the teens & the adults. And, the church could call on the kids for basic maintenance needs  and projects which would instill pride in the kids (and the mentors) and could potentially even save the church money.

I asked him how the project was coming along and he shared that he hadn’t even been able to get this dream off the ground.  He’d shared the idea with a few people.  He’d suggested that it could start small and he’d volunteer and share his plumbing skills to start.  But, he said that he hadn’t expected so much “red tape”.

For one, no one seemed to have the energy or the capacity to take on the project.  He couldn’t understand why if they didn’t have the energy or the time, why didn’t they give him the green light to take the lead.  And, for folks who seemed tapped out, they sure invested a lot of time and energy into slowing or stopping the idea.  One influential person focused on the cost of time that the project would take and decided that the maintenance costs of the church really were not that high and just couldn’t grasp the intangible benefits of such a program.

I understand that I only heard one side of this story.  And, I don’t really know this man at all.  Perhaps there are good reasons to have concerns about him or the ideas that he was proffering.  Or, perhaps the guy is a leader, has initiative and has an innovative, low risk, low cost idea of how to be a positive role model and give back to the community he knows.  And, maybe rather than being a victim of having a leadership void, he’s trying to proactively provide an opportunity for others that he wished he could have had.  I sensed that he wasn’t giving up and that he had a sense of realistic expectations and had accepted the time that it might take to get this idea off the ground and the challenges that he would face.

Regardless, it was a reminder to me to assume the role of listener more often.  This guy’s story prompted me to think of so many questions.  I was curious to know the other perspectives, what was stopping this proposed project, why, what fears and concerns were motivating both sides, etc.  Was apathy at play? Did this “leader” come from an unlikely place in their world? I think we can all think of a similar situation in our work or our community.  What side are we on?  Why?  Can we put ourselves in the other person’s shoes?  Who’s leading?  Who’s following?  What obstacles are we putting up or helping to take down?

It’s still early in the year.  As leaders, one of our key roles is to grow more leaders.  Make it a goal to encourage all people within our teams who are demonstrating leadership skills … not just the ones with the anointed titles.  And, be on the lookout for those who have the courage to proffer ideas.  Make it a personal goal to be a champion vs. an obstacle and sooner than later you’ll be catching your limit of leadership potential in your organization.

><(("> Melissa Laughon

Melissa is a ><(("> Team Member at Catch Your Limit, a management consulting firm with offices in Tallahassee, Florida and Richmond, Virginia. To learn more, visit www.catchyourlimit.com.


Posted in Change, Creativity/Innovation, Leadership.


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  1. Leadership Friday Favs linked to this post on May 4, 2012

    [...] Lead by Listening and Championing New Leaders & New Ideas (Melissa Laughon, Catch Your Limit) [...]

  2. Fav Leadership Reading - LeadBIG | LeadBIG linked to this post on May 7, 2012

    [...] Lead by Listening and Championing New Leaders & New Ideas (Melissa Laughon, Catch Your Limit) [...]



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