If you are perceptive enough, you’ll see signs of excellent and failed leadership everywhere you go. Whether good or bad, you can spot it, if you’re looking for it. This is especially true if you define leadership the way that I do. Broadly, I define it as the individual or individuals who chorale a group of people who are working toward a common purpose to get them to do so in a manner that demonstrates engagement, continuous improvement, and accountability. Sure, the definition can be refined to highlight more nuances; but, good leadership is really about getting people to do great work toward whatever purpose that brought you together. To achieve this outcome, leaders must figure out balancing being be cheerleaders, demonstrating integrity, and belief in the mission.
Last year, I met a woman named Stacey through a running group called Black Girls Run. Prior to being part of a FB group and casually bumping into each other at a couple of running events, Stacey and I didn’t know each other. I, however, knew two things about Stacey. First, I knew that Stacey was responsible for organizing a Sunday morning run across the Ben Franklin Bridge (aka “Big Ben”) that goes from Camden, NJ into Philadelphia, PA. I also knew that she was in great physical shape. On the other hand, I knew that I was a relatively new runner and that my pace was rather slow (Let’s just say that it was so slow at that time that I can’t remember it. I banished from my mind). But I really wanted to do the bridge run (For the life of me, I don’t know why I never tried it by myself because I’m typically the quintessential lone ranger). So, one Saturday night, I sheepishly and publicly told the group that I wanted to come but that I was afraid that I’d slow them down. They assured me that it would be okay and that I would be welcomed.
I went, and I was welcomed. The culture of the running crew was amazing! From the start, everybody was genuine, warm, and glad to have me. I reiterated my fears, and they said in near unison, “Don’t worry about anybody else: do you! Your race, your pace.” The objective was simply to finish, not to compete with anybody. It was about conquering your body and both noticing and enjoying your progress over time.
Shortly after 7am, we took off…and I was slow. But hey, I was running, right? But then, the coolest thing started happening: Stacey would occasionally just pop up, seemingly out of nowhere! Her pace far exceeded mine, and I knew I’d seen her smoke a looooooong time ago. She was actually running back to check on me! And she would pace with me for a while, just to make sure I was okay. Check this out: there were actually a couple of people in the group who were running slower than me! At some point, Stacey also went to check on them. Yes, she doubled-back even further (I couldn’t tell if the people running slower than me were doing so because such was their pace or if they didn’t want me to feel bad about being last).
As I continued to run BigBen, Stacey would appear and disappear a few more times. I have no idea how long it took me to finish that day. What I do know is that the other runners waited for all of us to finish before anybody left: we started together and we left together! I left feeling part of the team, slow and all.
As I drove away, I thought about how Stacey was simply remarkable. You see, in order for her to check on me (and the folks behind me), she had to sacrifice her pace and the luxury of being carefree and worrying only about herself. In the year or so since that first bridge run, I’ve learned how obsessive runners are about tracking their pace. I’ve also learned how much I don’t like to adjust my running schedule or pace for anybody else. Shucks, I get annoyed if somebody dares to try to chat with me when I’m running (I can run, talk, and breathe all at the same time)! In order to be willing to make such sacrifices, which I’ve seen her do at other run events with experienced runners, she had to care more about the mission of BGR (motivating black women to improve their health by making exercise an affirming experience) and the participants than she did about anything else.
Moreover, what I’ve seen on more than one occasion is that Stacey is human. There have been times when her work and family commitments have impacted her ability to participate and lead, and she has been transparent about that. Moreover, there have been times when she was exhausted or feeling less than motivated, and she has been transparent about that and showed up anyway.
Finally, Stacey does one thing in particular that I believe is part of the bedrock of leadership: she makes time to get away from us to develop herself. As much as she loves her crew and is self-less, she is committed to her own growth. While she runs with us, she works out and runs solo, too, to keep her edge and so that she can have opportunities to actually focus on her pace and be carefree.