I remember as if it happened yesterday. It was one of those moments where your eyes are opened, your heart is stirred and your soul awakens. Most often, this happens when you least expect it … yet you’re willing to notice it, embrace it, and let it initiate a turning point.
It was a beautiful spring day as I was heading west, on the tollway, just outside Chicago. I popped-in the technology of choice at the time … a cassette tape … and tuned-into the presentation of a woman I’d never heard of. A friend, who knew I was struggling to leave behind a career, the people and a firm I loved at Arthur Andersen, to follow my dream into professional speaking … thought I might find the tape helpful.
I had many miles ahead of me, so I thought it might be a good time to insert the cassette tape. While mindlessly joining-in to her presentation, it didn’t take long for this speaker to capture me. She was funny, having fun … and seemed to have no problem making fun of herself. Now, two decades later, I don’t remember much of the content she delivered, but I do remember exactly how she made me feel. Whole. Authentic. Genuine. Rosita Perez created a defining moment for me that day.
We had never met, but on that day … we connected.
Her content wasn’t complicated. It was profound. It felt intentionally simple. In the 1990’s, across the professional speaking industry, there was an internally self-deprecating joke that quipped, “If you had 3 points and a poem … you, too, could be a professional speaker!” Rosita seemed to have 3 points, but didn’t close with a poem. She was the poem.
I do remember one of her three points … see the usual with unusual eyes. While the content wasn’t new, per se, she made it original. It’s because she saw the content … with unusual eyes.
Great leaders have unusual eyes. They can look around and see what no one else can see. Even amongst the most mundane … the usual. On the contrary, this gift is rarely found in followers that hold leadership positions.
It’s been said many times … the eyes are the windows to the soul. This sure seems to infer there is a deeply close relationship between our eyes and our soul … our very core. I would suggest this relationship goes both directions. Like so many leadership “skills” that fail to deliver … seeing the usual with unusual eyes is not a three step mechanical process you learn by doing “role plays” in a training session. Seeing the usual with unusual eyes is not a skill at all.
It is a result.
In fact, most every effective leadership skill is a result … the result of a leader’s willingness to patiently and persistently dig much deeper. If the eyes are the windows to our soul … the very core of who we are … it’s clear to me that the make-up of this core ultimately defines what the eyes will actually see. In other words, we can never “learn how” to see the usual with unusual eyes. We can only strengthen our connection, our understanding and ultimately our insight into what rests within our core.
That connection, understanding and insight don’t only help us see what’s in our own core … it helps us see the usual with unusual eyes. And when we see the usual with unusual eyes we lead at a totally different level. It’s there that a leader can have a real impact on how it makes others feel.
As I rode down the tollway, listening to Rosita, there was a reason connecting to the content was secondary. And there was a reason I felt whole, genuine and authentic. It makes sense how, while we had never met, we had connected. When Rosita spoke, you could hear her words … but you connected to her core.
It’s because Rosita was connected to her own core.
Rosita and I never actually met. Yet, many years later we would connect again. Well into my speaking career, one that Rosita had helped inspire on that tollway, I would learn she was very ill. Over the course of my career, speaker and author Barbara Glanz, had become a mentor and ultimately a great friend. In those same years, Barbara had also become a dear friend of Rosita. I asked Barbara, knowing that she knew of my tollway journey with Rosita, if she’d be willing to take Rosita a gift on her next visit to see Rosita. Days later, Barbara delivered the simple wooden palm cross and card I had forwarded.
While Barbara was there, Rosita asked her to pen a thank you note. Barbara obliged as Rosita shared her words of gratitude. To this day, that thank you note remains a cherished gift.
A couple weeks later, I would return to my office to hear another recording of Rosita. This time on my office voicemail. Rosita described how she would hold that palm cross in her hands for hours. As I listened to her voicemail, I felt like I was back on that tollway again. I felt whole, authentic and genuine. It was, however, different this time. I wasn’t listening to a speaker I’d never heard … I was connected to a friend I simply had never met.
There are leaders who meet their followers many times, yet have never connected. And then there are leaders who never meet many of their followers. Yet it isn’t a problem at all … because they are connected. I am convinced it happens when a leader first connects to their own core. In doing so, they develop eyes to see … the usual in unusual ways. And eventually lead others to do the same.