Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing the Broadway tour of Finding Neverland. This show is an adaptation of the 2004 movie of the same name; the story of J.M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan. As the story goes, J. M. Barrie was inspired by the young children he saw playing in the park one day, and created a world where boys never grow up, fight with pirates, and live with fairies. At one point in the play, J. M. Barrie and the cast participate in a number called “Play” to shake the serious actors out of their cynical take on the child’s tale. It begins with this phrase:
“Can you remember back when you were young, when all the simple things you did were so much fun? You got lost somewhere along the way, you’ve forgotten how to play, every single day.”
In our leadership development exercises, we ask our participants to create their leadership timeline from their very first memories to 20-30 years into the future. The past timeline highlights moments that stand out as formative; the future timeline is intended to create purposeful opportunities for leadership development. Some participants focus on their experiences; others note movies, books, tv shows, etc. that shifted a view of their thinking about leadership.
But what about the moments that aren’t as memorable? What about those times just playing? Pretending to be a magician, a ship’s captain, a lion tamer…or just creating games with friends to fill up time in the day? Identities slipped on and discarded as quickly as the imagination could come up with the next idea. Just simple fun. I hope everyone has those types of fun memories.
But as we grow older, we seem to forget how to play. Yes, we have more responsibility as adults, experiences have taught us self-preservation and society shapes our thoughts on what is foolish and what is logical. But perhaps we have lost too much? Perhaps not everything needs to be so serious. Perhaps we can still find opportunities for playfulness. In my opinion, one of the best attributes of multi-domain leadership is the freedom try out different leadership styles in domains other than work. In the same way children are free to try on different identities while at play; participation in other domains allows adults to also try on different leadership identities. Are there simple things you did when you were young that you can re-incorporate into your life? Can you volunteer in ways that allow you to play? Are there things you can observe that make you happy but also connect to your leadership abilities and challenges?
For me, watching musical theater is a delight. And Finding Neverland reminded me that we shouldn’t forget to play (and to give thanks for the professionals who can entrance us with stage magic!). What have you experienced lately that allows you to learn from areas outside of your work?
Written by Rachel Clapp-Smith
Image by Polly Clapp
My grandmother passed away yesterday. As many families do at the time of loss, my family got together to remember, start the process of grieving, and reflect on the mark my grandmother made on the world. Whether we are intentional or not of making a mark on the world, we invariably do. There are so many wonderful qualities about my grandmother – she was kind, brave, self-determined, strong willed, and always friendly. She never wanted to be a bother to others and she didn’t let adversity slow her down. In fact, the day before she died, she stopped breathing for a little bit. But then she started breathing again, came back to, and went to lunch. That was simply the type of women she was, not be let a moment of death slow her down her keep her from lunch.
When I first started to study leadership formally, that is, in business school, and I was asked to think of a leader who inspired me, Grandma always came to mind. I never knew if it was cliché to think of my grandmother as an influential leader or, worse, sometimes I didn’t really understand why I felt influenced by her. But I did always see her as someone whose behavior I wanted to model. You see, she always had the respect of others because she always respected others. She never demanded trust or respect, but always earned it through integrity and relatedness to humanity.
As much as I want to tell you more about what an amazing women she was, the true point of this blog post is to reflect on our futures and our ends. Many leadership consultants will take clients through an epitaph exercise, in which they project on how they would like to be remembered. As kitschy as this may seem, in moments of loss, you can’t help but be moved by the legacy some people leave behind, how fondly they are remembered. It is years of consistent behavior that build these legacies and most often, they are projected onto many domains, not just work. I raise this domain orientation, because at mid-life where I sit at the moment, I seem to be thinking much more about how I can have an impact at work, but at life’s end, will that really matter? Will I be comfortable hearing people I worked with fondly remembering what I did for the organization at the expense of my kids and grandkids reflecting on how little they knew me, how successful I was at work, how much stress I brought home, and the family sacrifices I made for my career success? No, that doesn’t appeal to me. So, when I think about my leadership and the mark I will make on the world, in which domains is my mark the most important to me? By seeing how my many domains are integrated, it becomes easier for me to see how what I value in my work domain can enrich what I value in my family and community domains.
What do you want your legacy to be? How will your domains remember you?
.Yesterday, Villanova beat the University of Michigan in the NCAA Final Four championship game. Scanning through media attention of the game, the focus appears to be on two key people largely made responsible for that win: Villanova’s head coach, Jay Wright, and star player, Donte DiVincenzo.
Coach Wright led Villanova’s second championship win in three years. He even looks like a celebrated hero in his tailored suits and Clooney-like countenance. DiVincenzo has been described as “The Michael Jordan of Delaware” and was nominated the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.
How much of Villanova’s win was down to this coach and star player duo? A good deal, according to what I’ve seen in the news. However, the abilities and dynamics of the other team members, the assistant coaches, the resources invested, and even the fans themselves also contributed to the win. Perhaps Michigan didn’t step up as much as they could have, giving Villanova that much more of an edge. However, we’re less likely to see these contextual factors mentioned in reports of the win.
We can get caught up in a romantic idealized view of leadership. We want a hero. We want someone to be responsible. We love a good hero or villain story! Perhaps this year’s scandals in the NCAA built up our need for a hero—a beacon of light in dark basketball times. However, we see this all the time in the media, in our workplaces, communities, families, and even in ourselves.
The question becomes: “How much does leadership matter?” How much do CEOs, presidents, coaches, and leaders influence outcomes in sports, communities, and businesses? It can be difficult to pin down an exact answer to that question, but it’s clear there are dangers in giving more to their contribution than what’s due.
The romance of leadership represents a bias in explaining outcomes in which we over-attribute outcomes to leaders and their leadership. Leaders take credit for success and we grant that to them. We blame them for failures that may or may not be within their control. We want someone to be responsible. However, there are a few dangers in holding a highly romanticized view of leadership:
At the end of the day, does leadership matter? Do we need strong leaders? Absolutely! Not just for what they do themselves, but also for their influence in recruiting good people and bringing out the best in them, and for shaping an environment in which everyone can thrive. But these points should be moderated by an awareness of the dangers of a highly romanticized and heroic view of leadership.