September 28th is a day that always seems to sneak up on me. It’s not really one which I think about throughout the year, or even begin to dread as it becomes closer. September 28th, however, is a difficult day. September 28th was the day I lost my greatest leader, my Nana.
For me, what it takes to be a leader is multidimensional and something that will change on you time and time again. Whether you quote King, study Roosevelt, or just always seem to have Bob Ross on in the background, you find a leader every day. Leadership can come in any form; it just depends on what the individual needs in that given moment. For this blog post, instead of talking about what I learned this past week, I want to share some moments where my Nana was just the leader I needed.
If you have a sibling, you are probably familiar with what it is like to argue over the smallest things. I have a brother who is three years younger than I am and, in my opinion, is nothing like me whatsoever. If anything, we are similar due to our need to always be right, our hyper-competitive mindsets, and our want to continually engage in a discussion(argument). Fairly often, when we were younger, our Nana would come and watch us at our house and, us being the two loving brothers that we were, would have to deal with us getting into arguments. One specific memory that has stuck with me throughout the years was when I got my brother, Ryan, agitated. After settling Ryan down, my Nana brought me into a room and just began to look at me. This, maybe for the first time, taught me the power of silence. After what felt like an eternity of silence, she started with a straightforward statement, “You need to learn, it’s okay to be nice.” Think about that. A simplistic idea that I look back to almost every single time I am in a leadership moment. It’s okay to be nice. Too often, I see leaders try and use intimidation tactics for those they supervise or the famous line of “looks like I need to kick my team into shape.” My question to those people is always… why? I am all for challenging conversations and everyone improving, but if your goal is to go in and hurt someone’s feelings, you might want to reflect on what type of leader you are… or aren’t. Nana would continuously tell me that I was the one who needed to look after Ryan, and I feel like I have translated that little advice into how I hope to be as a leader.
2009. 7th Grade, and I have all my friends up at my parent’s house playing basketball. Apparently, I had picked up the habit of spitting for no reason whatsoever. Nana is sitting in the garage watching us all play, and I made the mistake of walking right in front of here and spitting. Once again, she calls me over. “Do you think it is cool to spit? It is not.” Brutal, right?? Well, maybe not so bad, but my feelings were definitely hurt. I didn’t think too much about this moment until further along in my life when I got into professional roles and began being supervised. Every time I would see someone in a leadership position do something that wasn’t a good representation, I would think, “Don’t spit, others are always watching.” This has mainly been relevant in the student affairs world I work in now. We like to call it the “Fishbowl,” where what you do can be seen from all angles. This may seem like a bit of a stretch for some, but as leaders, we have to know that these small missteps can impact our team, whether we ever know it did.
I often like to think about how people see me or what they think of if I cross their minds. Here would be my three top guesses:
- He talks like he is a professional golfer… is he even good? (No)
- My fascination with Bob Ross
- My want to be Superman for everyone.
The third one can be accredited to my Nana, but I’m still not sure she would agree that I even listened when she told me, “Even Superman can only do all that he can.” Over the years, I have changed the advice she gave me to “Superman, do all that you can,” and I talk about it often to others. However, every time I do, I always seem to need to sit down and reflect on if I even understand what she meant. For me, do all that you can means there *might* be no limit, and as long as you are working hard, you have a chance of succeeding. As I reflect on her words, though, I can’t help but think I got it all wrong. “Even Superman can only do all that he can.” Leaders always carry an immense amount of weight around. Even if you do not consider yourself a leader, I will challenge you to really explore the impact you have and recognize, you probably are a leader to someone, and I think that is the entire point Nana was trying to make. You don’t need to, as a leader, do anything that pushes you past what you can accomplish. Leaders need to recognize a limit to their “superpowers” and that it is okay to hand the baton off to the next person. Leadership is not an individual race; it’s a relay, more than just you play a role.
I had this blog post put together on the 28th because I thought it would be fitting to post on the 5th anniversary of her passing, but it just didn’t seem put together enough. I caught myself trying to perfect every line and every story because I wanted it to represent the impact and leadership she bestowed upon me. And then today, I caught myself. I was doing it again, trying to do all that I can rather than realizing that even Superman can only do all that he can. So, this will be how I end the post.
Being a leader is extremely difficult, especially when you realize you are expected to be a leader in more ways than one. Some days will feel like they will never end, but some days will end with you feeling like they didn’t even begin. Never lose sight of the impact you have every day because it is there. Be nice. Don’t spit. And most importantly, realize that you can only do all that you can, but all you can is making a difference somewhere.
Thanks for reading and feel free to leave comments below on stories you have that have shaped you into a leader! And thank you, to my Superman, Nana.
-Colin Lane Croat