Leadercast Lakeland: Awaken the Leader Within

CL - Leadercast

My personal mission: To inspire the citizens of Polk County to Awaken the Leader Within themselves and share their greatness with our community.

I am on a mission.  When I speak to friends, business owners, teachers and leaders in our community, I am always amazed at the quality of people I encounter. The conversations and ideas we share make it clear to me that we have everything we need right here in our community.  All we need is a way to tap into this unattended well and begin fortifying our local army by creating a reason for them to connect.  The silos in which we currently exist have slowly deteriorated our sense of community and wrecked our morale and willingness to work together to create a productive environment that serves a greater purpose.

“A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats.”

By providing resources, tools, and conversations that focus on discovering collaborative solutions, we can create an environment in which “Sleeping” Leaders (those who have not yet identified in themselves the leader within) can grow, learn and share – encouraging them to look within and find and share their greatness with the world.  This will not be an easy endeavor.  We will be required to make sacrifices, compromise our desires for the greater good, and be willing to fail along the way.  And the biggest difficulty will be fear.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins by taking the first step.”

When I embarked on my own journey (Lakeland Business Leaders) several years ago, I began my “journey of a thousand miles,” as Lao Tzu says, by “taking the first step.”  I took positive, intentional actions for the greater good of the community.  I believed if others shared my vision, together, we would be able to make a difference in our community.  I took many steps, consistently moving toward a simple goal: Bring out the best in the people around me, so that they can do the same for those around them.  Every day, I celebrated the small, but wonderful things within my community – the people, the events and the businesses.

The things I did were not special or even unique:  I checked in at local restaurants using social media, and told my friends how much I loved the food there.  I shared events for people who were trying to get their messages out to more people, answering questions and sharing my knowledge with the community I was building.  There was nothing special about these things.  But each little action I took, followed by more, consistent actions, created something wonderful:  a chain reaction.  I discovered that people did believe what I believed.  I wasn’t doing these things to get anything in return. But the connections I have made, the relationships I have built have been the most incredible reward I have ever known.

When you discover people who believe what you believe, it’s an amazingly satisfying feeling!

It was a little over a year ago that my friend Abby, (who came into my life as a result of some of the actions I mentioned above) shared a song with me.  It wasn’t a new song, but I had never heard it.  If You’re Out There, by John Legend is a song that calls out to whoever is listening, suggesting that we can change the world.

"If you hear this message, wherever you stand.
I'm calling every woman, calling every man.
We're the generation, we can't afford to wait,
The future started yesterday and we're already late."

When I heard those first words, I was inspired.  I knew the words were directed at me.  But halfway through the song, I began to cry.  I remember exactly where I was – driving – when I started sobbing.  At the point in the song when the lyrics said:

"I searched for a leader, but the leader was me."

I realized this was exactly right.  As a result of the actions I had been taking, I had become a leader.  People were following me.  They believed what I believe.  But these words struck me at that moment because, in spite of the successes we’d had, the people we were helping, the energy that was catching on, I was terrified.  I am not talking about a little bit of doubt, I am talking about white-knuckles-stop-the-ride-I-gotta-get-off-NOW-terror.

Who? Me? A LEADER? What in the world did I know about being a leader? More to the point, who was I to believe I had any right to be a leader?  I wasn’t equipped with the background, resources, confidence, education or experience that would qualify ME to be a leader.  I didn’t have a clue what I was doing!  I was working without a business plan, there was no guidebook, no adviser, no one to say, “Yes, that is the right thing to do.” Or, “No, let’s not try that, it won’t work.”  I was working on the only thing I did have, the one thing I was completely confident of, and about which I had no doubts: My Passion.

Follow your passion? Yes! It’s there for a reason.

Admittedly, that’s not always they best way to move forward, but it was literally all I had.  My passion and my partner and best friend, Craig. Craig believed in me, but he didn’t always understand what I was doing, or WHY.  There was one day about a year and a half ago, that we were discussing my efforts and I was feeling very frustrated. I was emotionally charged and he was questioning whether any of this still made any sense.  He didn’t like the toll it was taking on me personally, and he asked me if I was ready to quit. I thought about that question for a few minutes.  I considered what that would mean.  I imagined how nice it would be to have the pressure taken off my shoulders; to not have to worry so much about so many different things.  And yet, there was this voice in my head.  I told Craig, “I can’t explain it, and I have no idea where this is going to go, if it’s ever going to become something valuable to us or not, but I feel “compelled.”  There’s a force bigger than me, calling me, and I have to believe it’s calling me for a reason.  Please don’t ask me to explain it, but I feel like this is what I have to do.  I have to keep doing what I am doing.  I am here for a reason.”

Today, I believe I have discovered why I exist.

As humans, we all want to make a difference.  Yet, for whatever reason, we fail to see ourselves as someone who can make a difference.  Is it society?  Our upbringing? I don’t know, but I want others to find within themselves the sleeping leader.  It’s time to wake them up from their slumber and start challenging the status quo.  We need more leaders in this world.  Maybe the difference we make will not end war, or starvation.  Maybe the difference we make will not mean much on the global radar, but the difference we make can be the difference one or two people need to make it to tomorrow. The chain reaction starts by helping those around us, making a little difference, helping others make a little difference, and on and on.  It’s not a new idea.  Nothing brilliant about the concept of starting where we are to inspire the sleeping leaders in our community.  But I believe I exist to inspire everyone I meet to awaken the leader within themselves, to become the leaders we need in the world – leaders worth following.

Calling all Leaders and Sleeping Leaders

Join me on May 6th, 2016 as we bring Leadercast to Lakeland.  If you trust me, if you’ve received any inspiration from me in the past 3 years, if you are someone who believes what I believe, you’ll be there.  It’s an entire day of inspiring leadership experts sharing their messages, and experiences to inspire our current leaders and to help awaken all the “sleeping” leaders in our community.  If you’ve ever thought to yourself that you might be a leader, but you didn’t have the background to actually do anything about it, here’s your chance.  If you’ve never even considered the possibility that you might be a leader, I guarantee you’ll find some powerful messages that just might be loud enough to awaken the leader within you.  The details of the event are here: http://leadercastlakeland.com

Whose Job is it to get you on the Horse?

When I was a teacher, I worked hard to inspire my students to take responsibility for their actions, to own their success (and failure).  I remember one year in which I was especially frustrated with the lack of initiative of my students. It wasn’t just one class.  There was a culture among the seventh graders that year that seemed to have permeated the halls and almost all of the students seemed to be waiting for someone to do the work for them.  At one point, midway through the year, I decided to try to illustrate the difficulty that I was having as their teacher, trying to get them to complete their assignments, to listen to the directions, to take the initiative to help themselves create success.  I stood on a desk and I asked them this question:

“How are you going to get up here?”

They sat in their desks, looking at up at me, giggling at the fact that I was standing on a desk, waiting for me to answer my own question. I asked a student, to stand next to the desk.  I asked him the question again. “Dillon, if you needed to get up here on this desk, how would you do it?” He was enjoying the attention, but he didn’t want to answer the question.  He shrugged his shoulders.  “Unfortunately,” I told him,  “it will never happen if you don’t know how you are going to do it.”  He looked at me then.

“I don’t want to get on the desk.”

I asked him to sit down.  I asked for a volunteer.  Jamie raised her hand then and said, “I want to get on the desk, Ms. Long.”  I smiled at her and I asked her to come stand by the desk. “How are you going to get up here, Jamie,” I asked again.

“I have to climb on the chair, but I don’t want to fall”

“I am here, I won’t let you fall.” I extended my hand down to her and she grabbed it, took a step up on the chair and then she stepped up on the desk next to me.  Some of the students cheered, but Dillon had his head on his desk.  I helped Jamie down from the desk and then I got down and addressed the class. “The first part of getting anything accomplished in life is to want to get it done.  Without desire, you can’t accomplish anything.  But you’re likely going to need help along the way.  If you are waiting for someone else to do the work for you, you are going to be left behind.  When it’s time to get the work done, everyone has to do their own work.

“Can you imagine soldiers who couldn’t get up on their own horse?”

As leaders, it can be difficult to accept that not everyone wants to succeed.  There comes a time when the people who aren’t able to keep up with the charge will fall behind and be left in the dust.  The leader’s job is to lead.  It’s up to the people who want to fight for the cause, or get involved in the community, or to help the business succeed, to actually get themselves there.  Sometimes, being left behind is exactly what someone needs to realize they want to begin to do the work required to become successful themselves.  But, as long as the cavalry isn’t moving, everyone thinks they are part of the charge.

It doesn’t mean you don’t care when you move forward.  On the contrary, it’s the only way you can get anything done.



On Becoming a Leader

What is a Leader?

What ingredients are required in the recipe for Leadership?  I recently attended a luncheon in Lakeland in which Marco Rubio spoke (eloquently and passionately – without notes – and plenty of water) about what Leadership is.  He explained that Leadership does not divide, Leadership exists in those who lead on principles, not on agendas and “Leaders are not title holders, leaders are people who act.”

Leaders are not title holders.

This resonated with me.  Until I found myself in a position of leadership, I believed titles were required.  When I started my local business in 2009 – an Internet Marketing Agency in Lakeland, “no one” knew me.  Well, no one with titles knew me.  Today, I have built an online community of Lakeland professionals who care about our local economy, our community and collaboration.  I have no title, but I am a leader.  I have been the lone nut, dancing for quite some time – Taking Leadership Lessons from the Dancing Guy, I realize it takes guts to stand out and brave ridicule – but there have been many wonderful people dancing with me along the way, taking that risk too.  I embrace these followers and I know that without them, there would be no Lakeland Business Leaders Group and I would not be writing this blog post about leadership.

“Thanks for leading.”

I received a message from someone today about their appreciation for the work I do in creating an environment that fosters growth and nurtures business relationships in the community.  At the end of his message, he added, “Thanks for Leading.”  When I see messages like that, and I think about myself as a leader, it still surprises me.  Not because I don’t think I am a leader – I am.  I am someone who believes in my principles, I believe in uniting, not dividing, and I have no title – I just act. What surprises me is how far I have come and the simple fact that I was determined to make a difference – and that has made all the difference. There was no training, or course completed.  There was no nod from above, no invitation to lead.  I simply placed everything I had – passion, determination, and willingness to work and take risks – into something I believe in – community.

Find a way to help people, and do it consistently.

For over two years, I have taken action to unify the local community, because I think it’s the only way to achieve great things as a community- and I want great things for Lakeland. I have opened my heart and my mind to the myriad businesses and business people in Lakeland who are working hard to make a living, and a difference.  I have supported thousands of people, simply because they have chosen to connect on the “socialsphere” and they are working hard to be heard, and they need to know that someone is paying attention to what they are saying.  I have invited businesses to rally our LBL network to help them win contests, and some of them have won – we were instrumental in sending a local chef to Chicago to compete as a finalist in a national competition.  I have promoted events, organizations, non-profits and individuals who needed support.  I have identified a group of people who want to make a difference – and they support the Local Cash Mobs efforts I helped bring to Lakeland.

I don’t think I ever considered in all of this that I would emerge as a leader – that’s not what I was trying to do. Someone needed to help people connect – and since no one else was doing it, I did it.  While I was looking for someone to lead me, I discovered that if it was going to happen, it had to start with me.  Yet, it wasn’t an accident.  It didn’t just “happen.” It was because I was passionate about serving the community, and because I didn’t wait for someone to invite me to help.  I saw a need and decided I could help – and I did and I continue to do so. And, as long as I can help, I intend to do so.

No one is going to invite you to be a leader.

I believe there are a lot of people in Lakeland (everywhere actually) who are waiting for someone to ask them to help.  They are waiting for an invitation to lead.  I have learned that there is no invitation – and there is no map with detailed instructions as to how to go about making a difference.  I don’t know why we are all so passive about getting involved.  I am not sure why we think we need to have titles, or connections in order to use our skills and our desire to help and to make a difference.  If there were more people willing to take initiative – to lead – I think they would find, as I have, that there are a lot of people who will help.  Being a leader isn’t something you aspire to be.  Being a leader comes as a result of being willing to work hard toward something important, and to serve the community as best as you possibly can.

What do you think it requires to become a leader?  I’d love to know your thoughts, and hear what you think about leadership!