So…I will say at the outset of this post…that I am almost positive…you will have never read another post such as this in conjunction with “leadership.”
But here goes.
I am the mother to two kids. My oldest is 18, a young man, and my youngest is 15, a young woman. I’ve been a single mother since they were tiny.
I travel frequently. I am “on” with my work more often than I am not. I have, quite frankly, had a lot to juggle in raising them. My house hasn’t been the most organized, my yard is a mess. My cooking stinks. (Besides so much easier to load everybody up in the car after, a long day at work, and let someone ELSE cook and wait on us. Please note some sarcasm. 🙂 )
They’ve lived and continue to live with a very non-traditional mother and in a very non-traditional household. This has become no more obvious to me than watching my eldest, my boy, move into the working world.
Hank is 18. He has not been an easy child to raise. Free-spirited and not one to follow the rules our society has suggested are right for a growing boy such as him, I’ve allowed myself to be pulled into fear, not just frequently, but SO OFTEN that I’ve been nearly paralyzed by it.
The irony here, is that both of my kids…and I mention Hank more frequently than my daughter simply because he is the oldest–the first—the one who is blazing the trail for his sister…are living the precise core values I have preached with Girls on the Run…lead with an open heart, be the boss of your own brain, don’t be satisfied with the status quo, think outside the box, learn from and own your mistakes, laugh a lot, cry completely and live fully as yourself…eeking out every opportunity to FEEL with intention.
As a leader (and a reluctant one I might add) and the single mom to two kids, I’ve often felt this kind of self-induced segregation between these two facets of myself. I’ve compartmentalized these two worlds. Torn between trying to model “leader behavior” in the public’s eye and nearly pulling my hair out as I try to juggle guiding (and leading) two highly spirited kids has often times left me feeling fragmented and torn apart from within.
So when the story I’m about to tell you happened, it was at first a bit shocking and perhaps embarrassing, but when all was said and done, completely liberating.
Several weeks ago I was in Columbus, Ohio serving as a commissioner on the Commission for Political Reform…a project of the Bipartisan Policy Center (www.bipartisanpolicy.org). I am one of 30 or so folks who meet several times a year to discuss how we can “up the ante” and encourage a more civil discourse at our highest levels of leadership so that effective, solution-driven, bipartisan dialogue can occur. We had rounded out a full day of debate, discussion and discourse and were, as a group, riding back to our hotel on a small shuttle-bus.
Crammed in like small sardines, I’m sitting next to one of my all time favorite people, Henry Bonilla, former Congressman from Texas. (I don’t know Henry’s politics, but I do know that he is one of the nicest guys you will ever want to meet.) The shuttle is full of well-known political dignitaries, former House and Senate Members, Governors, writers and community activists.
About half way through the journey back to our hotel, my phone indicates a Face Time call is coming in and it’s my son. I am overjoyed! It had been a week or so since I had seen him. He and I love sharing our lives with each other and do so frequently with the “Face Time” app that allows us to actually communicate with each other visually, face to face. I elbow Henry slightly and say, “Henry…this is awesome. You are going to get to meet my son. And how cool is this…I can share all of you (I gesture to my fellow-passengers on the bus) with him too.”
Well, just as I hit the “accept” button on my phone, the shuttle noise (conversation and engine noise) drops to a nearly dead silence. I don’t know why except that I’ve noticed these kinds of silences…a kind of unified lull in dialogue–tend to occur naturally every one in a while. So, I hit accept and up pops my son’s beautiful face on my iPhone and out he shouts with no hesitation and as much joy as any boy/man could shout “Look Mom. I got my nose pierced. The girls are gonna LOVE it!”
This is sooooo, my Hank. He is fast becoming a fashion icon in his circle of peers. He is following his love for fashion to New York City, Los Angeles, Houston and DC. He has traveled more in the last month than I have in nearly six. He has met more fashion influencers in his genre of fashion than I have met political leaders. The kid is on a roll and so when his new “fashion” statement came hurling across my phone screen there juxtaposed with all those political dignitaries and leaders, I could do nothing more than shout out, still in all that silence, “Hank…THAT IS JUST SO COOL It’s beautiful!!!!!”
I felt like every eye on that shuttle either turned to me or made every effort NOT to. I heard one staffer from the Bipartisan Policy Center, begin a slow roll of laughter…not at Hank….but just the humor, the beauty, the joy, the experience that this moment offered up of parent/leader/real life all at once. It took only seconds for a large number of others to join in.
The next day, so many of my political comrades on board that shuttle walked over to me and shared how rich it had been for them, to hear my encouraging and enthusiastic response to my son’s joy…we talked candidly about the challenges of being leaders, often times in the public eye, and trying to preserve the sanctity of our family lives, but also be honest about how downright difficult it is to live in both.
I love my kids…and wonder everyday…just who is teaching whom…who is GUIDING whom.
Leadership requires collaboration, compromise, empathy and understanding and being a parent has been the perfect…yes I said PERFECT…training ground for putting these into action.
Leadership comes in all forms and in all places…and as I humorously and humbly learned on this shuttle ride, at all times.