Little did I know that a conversation with my Executive
Officer would shatter the plateau of leadership I felt that I had been
floundering on for so long.
Yesterday I received a request from a local civic
organization to give a presentation on the role that the Coast Guard plays in
our national defense structure. This is not an uncommon occurrence, and I do
not say that arrogantly, for I receive frequent requests to speak in and
outside of our organization on a variety of topics. “Not a problem,” I replied,
and I jotted the date down in my calendar. I would use the same canned
presentation that I had utilized in the past, and I would not give it another
thought until the day prior to the event.
As I pondered the situation throughout the next day, however,
a thought surfaced that this engagement might be a great opportunity to let one
of the junior members in our unit speak; allowing them to grow in their
presentation and professional presence qualities. When I had a chance to see
our Executive Officer later that day, I informed her of the appointment and my
thoughts on grooming someone else to present to the group. “You are starting to
think like a leader now,” she said, agreeably supporting the idea and leaving
it to my implementation.
That is when the illumination of understanding, the
proverbial “light bulb,” went off. I speak well and often; I know this, my
Command knows this, and those around me know this. They know that I am a proven
performer in that aspect, so you would think there isn’t the same pressing need
to keep proving it as there once was. Now is the time that I should begin
utilizing those skills and experiences to mold and develop those starting out
or needing refinement, right?
I have proven my mettle on many hills, yet the accolades
once received with genuine humility have become one-dimensional and unfulfilling
in the heart now saturated with self-importance. The re-run crowd seems to clap
softer now, and with less enthusiasm, as to say, “we know you have conquered,
now move along and bring us the next act!” The Disciple had become a Master,
yet the Master became a Performer instead of a Teacher.
Fortunately, and thankfully, the Performer saw the cue in
time to graciously step aside in order to cultivate the next generation of Disciples.
For in this prospect of potential growth in the lives of others came a new
sense of satisfaction, as well as a humbling feeling of maturity, realizing
that those who grade the test of my life will not see it as a diminishment of
performance, but at an increase in potential.
Therefore, I will not say that this personal lesson “is”
leadership in its entirety, but merely another of the countless facets of it: A
true Leader is simultaneously a Disciple, a Master, and a Teacher. He or she is
continually a Disciple, following the paths of growth they incessantly aspire
to, as “every man is my superior in some way, and I can learn from him”
(unknown). He or she is also continually a Teacher, guiding Disciples who fumble
in the polished footprints of skill-sets they have mastered. Yet the true Leader
knows that mastery is not for showmanship and not for performance, for the
inner confidence they feel and the silent, approving twinkle in the eye of the
Grader is enough to satisfy any hunger pangs for validation that may linger.
I can honestly say that I am refreshed and excited to begin
this new phase in my own personal development, where the Performer yields to
become the Teacher, and in doing so becomes the Leader. There are several
positions in my personal and professional life where I can readily implement
this newfound revelation, and it can be credited to that singular sentence of
observation shared by my superior officer.
“For Christ did not
come to be served, but to serve…”