Most people who get to know me are surprised to learn that I was often bullied as a child and early teen. It’s not something you typically lead with unless you’re writing a Leadership Moment for the entire Lead Star community to read. Nonetheless, it’s impacted so much of who I am as a person, colleague, friend – you name it – in all the best and sometimes worst ways.
I’ll never forget sitting at my parent’s kitchen window, watching the neighborhood kids pass by on parade in front of my house. I was never invited to join in the good times with any sincerity. Thank goodness social media wasn’t a thing back then; seeing them through the window was difficult enough.
As much as I wanted to be part of the “in” crowd and be welcomed with open arms by peers who frequently did quite the opposite, I always tried to embrace my mom’s wisdom. She would share with me that “popularity,” as 7th graders define it, was a myth. Enhancing others’ lives through kindness, authenticity, and genuine care – that’s what makes you truly popular. I did my best to show up with this in mind, seeking a real connection with anyone and everyone, trying not to worry about what that “in-crowd” may think.
Fast forward several decades later, I’m more grateful than regretful for that time. You learn a lot being on the outside of something, especially about how to show up as a leader. Here are some of my favorite lessons learned from these early years:
Titles don’t matter, but how you treat people does. I wasn’t one of the “popular” kids, but the title never mattered – then or now. Kindness did a whole lot more than a label ever did. Replace “popular” with a leadership title, role, or rank you hold today. No matter what your title, treat people well.
Remember what it feels like to be down and support others when they experience low points. Remember what it feels like to be on the outside looking in. It’s not an experience you quickly forget, and you gain much perspective from it. We’ve all been down before. One of the best lessons from tough times is the value of doing your best to lift others. You’ll always win when you’re doing right by people.
Be true to yourself. I spent many early days figuring out who I was. Sometimes my authentic self is too much for people. Be you anyways. Showing up as yourself is better than showing up as someone else every day of the week. Authenticity is where peace lies. If you accept yourself, you’re bound to find peace.
You’ve undoubtedly had many defining moments that shaped the “you” you are today. What lessons did you learn from those experiences that you carried into adulthood? And how have they shaped the way you lead?
When you have a moment, reply to this newsletter with some of the lessons learned from your early years. I’d value your insights.