It was 6:30 AM, July 4, 2016 and I was standing at the starting line of the annual Plain City Utah Fourth of July 5K. The last time I lined up for this race was nearly two decades previous, when I was a star cross country runner for the local high school. In those days, I usually won this race and now I found myself ready to relive memories by showing all those around (including some former high school runners whom I'd not seen in nearly as much time) that I could still do this...that I could win the race. I'd looked at the previous year's times, I'd trained hard and I was not 100% certain, but I was pretty sure that I could do it.
The starter took his spot to the left of the runners and raised up his firing arm. "Runners set." I was so excited and ready. I had also convinced my two boys, age 13 and 10, to run win me. I looked over to my oldest, and he too looked excited and ready. Then I turned to my right to peak on my 10 year old. Instantly I could tell, he was nervous, anxious and quite scared...and it made sense. Gosh, he'd never run 3 miles in a row, let alone compete in a race.
In the spit second that I had before the starting gun fired, I had a critical decision to make. Do I compete and strive for the honors that will redeem my name once more (or at least this is how I imagined it in my head), or do I give all of that up to help my son?
Luckily, my father's intuition set in and I quickly made the decision to stick it out with. Over the next long and grueling 3.1 miles, I encouraged, supported, prodded and pushed this young man to give it all he had. Trust me, this was not an easy task. As we neared the finish line, I slowed down a little to allow my son to cross the finish line first. He'd done it, he had completed a 5K without stopping. Immediately after crossing, he turned back to me and once I saw the face of joy and pride, my heart became full. Certainly, there are not many better feelings than the feeling you get of giving up something that you want to help another go up.
What Leadership Really Is
I've done a lot of reflection on this event and I found a powerful lesson that I have applied in my own life. I've learned through trial and error (mostly error), that if you want to be a leader...if you want to have influence, the best way to get this is by sacrificing what you want in order to assist others. Zig Ziglar, one of my heroes, said it best, "If you help enough other people get what they want, you'll get what you want." Here are some specific examples of what I mean for your own life:
Are you willing to give up your rights for more responsibility? That is, will you sacrifice your lunch time in order to get a few things done so that you can have time to invest into others?
Will you humble yourself and admit mistakes? There are few methods that can build trust quicker than admitting your weaknesses and becoming vulnerable.
Would you consider setting aside your own agenda to learn the agenda of those you are leading? Sure, a leader knows the way, goes the way and shows the way...but are you certain it is the right way. Can you put aside your pride and consider other thoughts?
How does 5 AM sound? Are you willing to wake up earlier in order to find the time necessary for your own personal development? You cannot help anyone if you don't know anything. Take the time to improve yourself so that you can improve others...but don't do it on their time, sacrifice your time.
Are you willing to talk less and listen more? Sure, you're probably thinking that you're pretty good at listening already, but are you? Do you listen twice as much as you talk? There is no finer form of flatter than actively listening...and you'd be surprised what you learn when you do it.
I could continue to go on, but I think you get the idea. So, I ask, are you gonna give up in order to go up? If you don't you may just end up becoming a skeleton in the same position you're in now.