When I was 23 and beginning graduate school, I applied for a job as receptionist at a social services organization. Uncertain of my abilities to juggle schedules, direct phone traffic, and organize office needs, I literally stopped the interview mid-stream, told the Director that I probably couldn’t do the job, and let him know I didn’t want to waste his time. I started gathering my things to leave.
Taken aback and a bit amused, he asked me if I would stay and finish the interview, and, as to whether I was qualified for the job or not, he said, “I’ll be the judge of that.” Begrudgingly I put down my items and stayed.
Somehow, I got the job. What happened was that this leader saw in me qualities and potentials I did not see in myself, then fostered that development. Within a few months I was promoted to Case Manager, landing the first steppingstone of my career. From there I went on to be Director of a free medical clinic the organization ran within a local community center. That position, in turn, laid the foundation for my background in counseling, program development, and community connection. The rest is history.
Sometimes caring means listening to words, tone, and body language like we teach in Our Community Listens’ three-day flagship class. Sometimes it means listening beyond the tangible to hear what lies beneath—promise, opportunity, potential. Choosing to lead (bring others along, helping them realize their full potential) over manage (utilizing others for your own gain) leaves space for development, growth, and expounding on strengths previously not exposed.
In that meeting half a lifetime ago, both parties in the room technically had it “right.” For so many reasons I could have left that day, and for that matter the Director could have let me. But, he was right, and I needed to stay so I could grow into who I was supposed to be. By asking me to stay, that leader spoke words of life to me.
So, with the holiday season before us, friends, I share two invitations with you. As we head into this season of thanks, I invite you to ponder back on the times in your own life, personal or professional, where someone saw potential in you that you didn’t automatically see in yourself. What happened? What did they do to make room for your growth? How did you respond?
Then, as the season of thanks slides into the season of giving, I invite you to listen inwardly for those opportunities. When you see potential in someone they’ve yet to discover in themselves, take the bold move to tell them what you see. Lead. Care. Listen. Give. Speak life.