As you may know, I am transitioning to a new assignment. For just over six years I have had the divinely orchestrated opportunity to serve people through the mission of Southwest Michigan First. Although I have a master’s degree in communication, I am at a loss for words to describe the gratitude and pride I feel having worked alongside some of the most talented, thoughtful, funny, energetic, gracious and all around bada** people I have ever met. The time in the trenches with this team, from the Board of Directors to the UPS team members that deliver the packages has been a significant season in my life. For that, I am eternally grateful.
If working with these amazing human beings is not enough, I also had the benefit of being in an environment where learning and growing are priorities. And my goodness…have I learned! The extent of my learning is far too wide, and certainly too deep for a blog post, however, I thought I would take a moment and reflect on a few of the big lessons that I have learned while serving this region. My hope is that my learning can help to empower, edify and encourage you and the people you go to the trenches with every day.
- “Swing Hard, or Surrender Your Bat!” At SMF, we believe that the most powerful force for change is a job. Jobs and education have power. People who have them, have choices. People who don’t, have less choices; and in this world of global competition, the stakes have never been higher for us to create an environment where EVERYONE has an equitable opportunity to learn and have gainful employment. While working with companies and communities, I quickly learned that EVERY opportunity to serve people and improve their quality of life is important. It could mean the world to a family or individual who is struggling. Because it could mean the world, we have to do our work as if our lives counted on it. We are in the people service business and as the great poet Marianne Williamson said “…Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you…” I learned that bringing my best to every “at bat” did not secure a successful outcome, however, it would secure the peace and confidence that I gave it my all. No matter what work you do; swing hard! You never know what doors life can open if you bring your best self, and not allow the contagion of negative emotions like bitterness, envy, mistrust and apathy take over your life’s work. Every at bat is important…swing like it!
- Leadership is an Activity. One of the benefits of my role was the opportunity to meet and engage people in positions across all types of industries and interests. The diversity and richness of the people and organizations I was able to serve was fascinating and growth provoking for my life. I met and interacted with “leaders” from every walk of life. Quickly, I realized that all “leaders” are not created equal. I found that we give people the title of leader without first verifying their behavior. I met many people who had big jobs, however, if you asked people around them how it was to work for/with them; people started to stammer. Here’s what i’ve learned; leadership is not about title or pedigree or power. Leadership is ONLY about what you do with people. It is an ACTIVITY that you EXERCISE to MOBILIZE PEOPLE to CHANGE the HUMAN CONDITION. That means that all of us have the opportunity to lead in every facet of our work and lives. Leadership is an Equal Opportunity Employer. We just have to be courageous, committed and coherent enough to see the opportunities to improve the lives of people around us. It has become clear to me through my interactions over the last six years that positions may have the ‘power’, however leaders have the PEOPLE, and PEOPLE are the POWER.
- Excellence is the Standard. Kudos to Ron Kitchens and the Board of Directors for setting a super-high bar of excellence. I have learned that the small things matter. From the ink we use to the quality of the paper we print on; excellence was required. Why? Because we were serving people, and through that service to people, we could accomplish our mission. We worked painfully hard to ensure that we stayed on the track of continuous improvement. I must admit that as a person with a #1 Gallup strength of ‘Positivity’, the post-event debrief meetings could be mighty painful; however, that pain produced a commitment to serving with excellence. The way we approach our work matters. The way we welcome people matters. The way we say thank you matters. The type of food we serve at what time of day…matters. Setting an expectation of excellence helps to ensure excellent results. In the case of SMF…the results are in, and excellent is the standard. I am so thankful for this lesson, both for my life and my future.
- “You Don’t Need Feet to Dance.” This lesson came the morning of my last day. A community friend and partner invited me to join her at the opening breakfast for a great regional event, the USTA Boys National Championships. The speaker for the breakfast was a woman I have never met, yet her story resonated with me. Her name is Adrianne Haslet-Davis. Adrianne is a dancer who lost her leg during a tragic accident related to the Boston Marathon bombing. She now travels the country sharing her story and encouraging people to overcome. During her talk she told the story of one of her mentors who was teaching her dance, yet was elderly and unable to do the moves; so she taught her using her hands and fingers. Adrianne remarked “I learned that you don’t need feet to dance.” BOOM! that statement hit me like a ton of bricks. She is so right! We do not have to know all of the answers to follow our dreams. We do not have to be from a well-to-do family to have success! We don’t have to go to an Ivy League school to learn. We don’t need a comedian to laugh! We don’t require perfect conditions to be happy. All we need is US! We have all we need inside of us to make a difference. WE DON’T NEED FEET TO DANCE! When I started here at SMF, I didn’t know a thing about economic development or running a business or the economy; I came in with a heart to make a difference and a brain ready to learn. I didn’t have feet in the industry. However, as I get ready to walk out of the door for the last time as an employee…I KNOW HOW TO DANCE! And, not only can I dance, I’ve learned to dance with great partners!
Thank you Bri, Carla, Cathy, Cynthia, Damon, Derek, Heather & Heather, Jacqui, Jill, Joe, Justine, Keith, Kelsey, Miranda, Nancy, Nick, Petey, Regan, Andrew, Bronwyn and all of my teammates who have gone on to do great things. Finally, thanks Ron, for seeing the potential in me and opening the door for me to kick through. I am eternally thankful for the opportunity I’ve had to serve and look forward to going home to Western Michigan University to take these lessons and many more to continue the work of impacting lives.
“If I can see farther than others, It is because i’m standing on the shoulders of GIANTS!”