There are many inspirational stories circulating around the internet. Some of them are true; others we hope are true. The following is a summary of one that is true, and may touch the hearts of the most hardened leaders. Thanks to Jemma Garraghan on the Why Lead Now blog for this summary.
Leaders, look inward for the lessons to be learned from this story. I cannot share all the insights you may gain from reading this and pondering it. But I invite you to share any good insights you may have gained.
One day, a teacher asked her students to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name. Then she told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down.
It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed in the papers.
That Saturday, the teacher wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and listed what everyone else had said about that individual.
On Monday she gave each student his or her list.
Before long, the entire class was smiling. “Really?” she heard whispered. “I never knew that I meant anything to anyone!” and, “I didn’t know others liked me so much,” were most of the comments.
No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. The teacher never found out if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn’t matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another.
That group of students moved on.
Several years later, one of the students was killed in Vietnam and his teacher attended the funeral of that student. She had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. He looked so handsome, so mature. The church was packed with his friends. One by one those who loved him took a last walk by the coffin. The teacher was the last one to bless the coffin.
As she stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her. “Were you Mark’s math teacher?” he asked. She nodded: “Yes.” Then he said: “Mark talked about you a lot.”
After the funeral, most of Mark’s former classmates went together to lunch. Mark’s mother and father were also there, wanting to speak with his teacher. “We want to show you something,” his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. “They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.”
Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times.
The teacher knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which she had listed all the good things each of Mark’s classmates had said about him.
“Thank you so much for doing that,” Mark’s mother said. “As you can see, Mark treasured it.”
All of Mark’s former classmates started to gather around. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, “I still have my list. It’s in the top drawer of my desk at home.”
Chuck’s wife said, “Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album.”
“I have mine too,” Marilyn said. “It’s in my diary”
Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. “I carry this with me at all times,” Vicki said. Without batting an eyelash, she continued, “I think we all saved our lists.”
Tears rolled down the eyes of the humble teacher. We encounter so many people in our lives, and it’s a precious joy to see the good in all those journeys.
Please note that this is not a call for mindless positive thinking. You don’t need to hold hands and sing Kum Ba Ya in your meetings. That has no place in the real world. Instead, it is a reminder that we cannot lift our teams by putting the members down.
Yes, there are times when correction is needed, but it can usually be given with love. Yes, I really said that. Love is a foundational principle of Steve Farber’s Radical LEAP (that’s Love, Energy, Audacity and Proof). Moreover, it is our team members who produce our bottom lines. Do we show them that we value their contributions? Where do our priorities lie?
And now for the homework. If you gained any leadership insights from this story, take some time to determine how you will apply them. And then go to work and sincerely share the love. As in Sister Helen’s story, the changes may not be immediately apparent, but you will reap benefits.
A good leader leads with love.