Sunday, October 25, 2009

"The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual..."

"The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual. The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community." William James

This past week, a group of staff came together to put on a talent show for UTSA. Some people might see such an event as frivolous, not worth people’s time and yet this gathering was important for the organization in two ways.

In thinking about what happened, I have come to understand it as an act of leadership on the part of the participants. I doubt any of them decided to be part of the talent show to be leaders or even thought of it as leadership. But I see leadership occurring on two levels. One element of leadership is the ability to take a risk. We would usually define risk taking as trying a new program or idea, or making a significant change, or any number of highly difficult and major actions.

So how does participating in a talent show constitute a risk? To my way of thinking, and I was a participant last year, one of the toughest audiences to perform for is a group of peers and colleagues from one’s work organization. No matter how confident you are in your talent, there’s always the possibility of looking foolish and looking foolish in front of supervisors and perhaps the people we supervise is an unpleasant idea for anyone. I think this fits the definition of taking a risk.

The other reason I see this as leadership is due to one of the results of their actions. By their willingness to take this risk and perform in the talent show, they created a shared experience for members of the organization. I believe that shared experience leads to community and a sense of community makes it more possible for individuals to come together around shared ideas, values and purposes. All of these ways of working together help us solve the problems we face, help us bring our different perspectives into the mix and help us bring the best of everyone into our work.

And so Friday afternoon, several hundred people took the time from work to go to a talent show. Seems a frivolous event. Many people chose not to go, perhaps thinking it was not worth leaving the work of the organization. However, people were in fact exercising leadership. By engaging in the leadership and by coming together in community, they made a difference.

Leadership and community. Two important elements for an organization. Two critical aspects for making a difference in an organization. Two fundamental ways to help individuals celebrate the human spirit in our organizations. Two ways to help all of us have a better experience in our work life. All that from a talent show. That’s not frivolous at all.

And yes, some of the participants were also dancing,


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