The Depth of Leadership  


Several days ago a woman stopped me in the hall and told me how much she appreciated my presence at work. She commented on the changes that had taken place since my arrival two years ago, and that the changes were good, much needed, and long over due. Initially I thought this would be a short conversation, but I recognized that I was going to have to stop and listen, and I mean really stop and really listen, as she made it clear that she was in charge of this conversation. I stood still and became silent while she went on detailing the evidence of my existence in our organization. Her thoughts were concise and inspiring and it was an oddly profound moment, one which actually weakened me. She knew what she was talking about as she had been in that building for years. She then said she had to get back to work, upon which I murmured a feeble and humble “Thank you.” Her final words to me, “I know it’s difficult. Be encouraged.”

As leaders, our main gratification frequently comes from those whose work comes in direct contact with ours. And in our daily practice, we pay most attention to statements made from those above us, our leaders. We have our sites set on a vision and our thoughts on the future. Our performance is about staying the course of continuous improvement, moving others forward, and creating positive change where and when possible. We practice team-building techniques, revamp communication strategies, restructure organizational processes, and sculpt climate and cultural expectations. Always on the move forward, upward and outward seeking, riding the surface, and often skimming the edge, we hardly ever look back, and certainly never look down.

Furthermore, the focus of leadership is often on the leader himself. Leaders are supposed to be mindful of their behavior, their influence, and their actions. They are suppose to rise above others, climbing mountains and shattering obstacles, leading the way, finding new directions, and creating better pathways. With all this attention being given to leaders, it is not difficult to understand how and why leaders can easily be swayed from mindful concern of others, especially of those further down the ladder than themselves.

Excellence in leadership runs deep, and there is little, if anything, deep about surface-skimming, self-indulgent leadership. Deep leadership touches those far below the immediate eye-level and runs its course into the hearts of individuals whose opinions you are least likely to ponder. Penetrating even the most challenging, it creates value in all, it is inclusive, it teaches when you least expect it, and in ways that you won’t always anticipate.

With one hand leaning on the wall, and the other holding an old wooden rod with tangled silver mop strands on the other end, the woman said, “I know it’s difficult. Be encouraged.” With that, she turned and began cleaning the well-worn floors of our old school building. She understood her importance in the life of our organization, and that her job as a custodian was valued. She said she was proud of her contribution to giving children a clean place to learn. She said that I had taught her that. 

                                                                                                         Bettina Ann Grahek


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