A few years ago, I participated in a charity date auction to help raise funds for a need in my community. As often is the case, I ended up learning a lot more than I had anticipated from this experience. This lesson was a particularly painful one.
Let’s skip to the auction itself. The auctioneer was warm and charming, and by the end of her introduction, the crowd was already laughing and engaged. I was scheduled as the third “date” and was feeling rather nervous, but I was somewhat encouraged after hearing the lively commentary the auctioneer had for the first bachelor…
I was just thinking, “This isn’t so bad,” when the first bachelorette tripped forward to the makeshift stage.
I recognized her as one of the singles I’d seen at the bar ingesting some last-minute liquid courage, while I had been working the room and engaging with potential bidders. The auctioneer began by providing the bachelorette’s short bio, and then, the bidding commenced. Without warning, the bachelorette snatched the microphone away from the auctioneer. She took a breath, made a sexually explicit comment, and handed the microphone back to the stunned auctioneer. An astonished silence filled the room as the auctioneer scrambled to salvage the situation.
The bachelorette received another bid or two, but finished with the lowest amount for any of the singles.
Before I knew it, her auction was done, and it was my turn. The spotlight seemed especially bright. I smiled and scanned the room in what I hoped was a pleasant, nonchalant manner, as I tried to remember how breathing normally works.
If I remember correctly, my date was the second highest bid of the night. At the time, I was quite pleased with myself.
When I last saw Bachelorette #1, she sat alone at the bar, slumped over a drink. I walked out of the place, smug in my belief that this was the product of doing it poorly versus doing it well.
It hurts to write these words. However, it’s important that they’re said. I was so focused on my initial goal that I overlooked someone else’s need. I wasn’t responsible for the choices she made that night, but I was responsible for mine. It saddens me that I put so much energy into winning over a crowd and did nothing to empathize with this one woman. In fact, at the time, I was quite content to have her serve as evidence of my own success. It’s only now that I realize just how much I failed her. We are all given these opportunities in our life: the big moments that are made up of small decisions.
How to be leaders of the future
It is these types of moments that 4-time best-selling author Jacob Morgan refers to in his book, The Future Leader, which details the skills and mindsets he predicts will be crucial for future leaders. In my review of Morgan’s book, I noted that in previous decades, the growth of stock prices determined how successful a leader was, and it was enough to be effective. But now, thanks to modern technology, employees are able to have a closer look at the lives of their employers, and want to respect them as whole people. In today’s world, business achievements are not enough. Employers needs to be holistically respected if they are going to maintain the loyalty of their employees, and that includes treating others well.
In his section on humility and vulnerability, Morgan says that the time for the “alpha leader” has passed. What we need are holistic leaders, who lead by example and are vulnerable, connecting as equals with individuals — because that is what we all are. This enables leaders to unleash the potential of others. Morgan rejects this alpha mindset so perfectly when he says, “Going to work shouldn’t feel like a Game of Thrones Episode. Drop the armor and be human.”
So, while that night wasn’t a competition to get the highest bid, I arrived with my armor on. I came to this event ready to be philanthropic, but I was so focused on that goal I ultimately failed to be charitable. Before the auction, I could have been a humble leader and tried to bring out the potential of the more nervous bachelors and bachelorettes. After the bachelorette humiliated herself, I could have reminded her of the bravery and generosity she demonstrated in just getting on that stage. These were missed chances, but also a lesson painfully learned. I was effective, but I wasn’t good. The future needs leaders who build others up and show compassion in moments of failure. May our workplaces be full of truly good leaders.
Jacquelyn Adams is a career development enthusiast and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, delving into more effective employee training strategies… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.