Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Today's Lesson: Status

Window washer. Carpet cleaner. Garbage gatherer. Leader?

Today I met a woman named Anna. Anna was victim number fifteen in a series of interviews I have been conducting with faculty and staff at my university to learn about the different perspectives people have on leadership. I begin by asking how he/she defines leadership. Next, I pose the question, "When I say the word 'leader', who comes to mind?" I then give a series of qualities and adjectives commonly used to describe leaders, and ask for the names of students, faculty, and/or staff who come to mind, much like a word association game.

Anna gives me a lot of the responses I expect to hear. Among them: the president, vice presidents, deans, and other individuals who stand on the top rung of the organizational ladder. To be fair, most of my other colleagues also mentioned these individuals. I certainly do not mean to suggest these individuals are not leaders. I believe my colleagues' responses are representative of those I might find if I were to conduct a similar series of interviews with the general public. They're the same types of responses I tend to give when asked these questions. It's not about whether those individuals are or are not leaders. It's about the subtle but strident underlying message: in our society, status gets you seen. Status is what's seen.

We are about halfway through the word association part of the interview, when one of Anna's responses catches me off guard. "The housekeeping staff." Come again? Yes, I heard correctly. The housekeeping staff. Wow, what a refreshing answer! This woman understood what (I believe) true leadership is about: not where you rank in an organization, but the difference you make in it. It's not the rung on which you stand, it's how tall you stand on it. It's who you are. It's part of your being.

And Anna was absolutely right. Lynn University has an amazing housekeeping staff. They are friendly, and warm, and while I don't know for certain, I would venture to say they see themselves as an integral part of the campus community (or at least I hope they do). They always have smiles on their faces, and greetings waiting to leap from their mouths to your ears. I think they secretly know the power they have to brighten my day. Oh, and they work really hard, too.

I believe leadership, or greatness, or excellence can be found anywhere. We just have to be willing to look beyond what our culture has trained our eyes to see. We must be willing to seek it out, and appreciate it when we find it.

Thanks for keeping our campus looking beautiful ladies and gents. Keep smiling.

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