One of the joys of being in the leadership development world is the opportunity to read from a wide variety of perspectives, backgrounds, philosophies. And then we have the privilege of combining ideas, inspirations, and epiphanies from disparate sources of insight to bring new revelations to the leadership community on how we can enrich the human experience inside the workplace culture.
Naturally, we have the expected array of thought leaders’ voices on our bookshelves: Collins, Kouzes, Goldsmith, Posner, Drucker, Coyle, Bock, Jobs, etc. But we also have the Dalai Lama, Sharon Salzman and Pema Chodron, on those same shelves, taking up the same space in our house, in our minds, in our thinking, in our trainings, and in our consulting practice.
One engaging quote from an unexpected source has been absorbing our attention recently. It’s actually about death. But it still applies to leadership. Surprised? Skeptical? Stick with us, and we think you’ll see the connections as we unpack our ideas about this for you.
On our shelf is a book of thoughts on loving and dying pulled from conversations between spiritual teacher Ram Dass and one of his closest friends, Mirabai Bush.
In these conversations, the ailing Dass observed to his friend: “We’re all just walking each other home.” That one sentence carries a universe of wisdom so encompassing it actually became the title of their book, and, some would say, his last and most lasting legacy of insight.
Packed in those seven words is a picture painted of compassion, acceptance, belonging, and caring. Despite all the noise, strife, conflict, and chaos of the day-to-day world, at the core of our daily existence is the one immutable mission: To caringly escort those people we love – and who love us – through this crazy life until we each take that final step home.
The request, “Will you walk me home?” and the offer, “Let me walk you home,” are invitations to a deeper relationship, one expected to withstand the unpredictable variables of a journey from one safe place (a restaurant? A house party? A museum opening? A concert? The office?) to the next safe space, a home with a welcoming front door, a lock which will obligingly cooperate with the key in hand, the porch light that turns on comfortingly. And the escort who cares enough to stand alone outside and wait until the homebound companion is tucked away inside the safe destination, lights turned on, happy dog within, noisily jubilant on reconnection.
But there is more embedded in that offer and request: An opportunity for a bonding one-on-one conversation, an intimacy, the prospect of seeing each other in the light of new understanding and trust. Two equals just making their way from a party – or through life – attached and caring for each other in a special way that will see them to their next destination, with the shared experience of protecting each other along the way.
In saying “We are all just walking each other home,” Ram Dass points us to the bigger picture of what we are all doing here together. Each one of us is just passing through. We are not permanent fixtures here, despite our wish that we were. This is definitely not our home. That’s our destination. So how do we make the best of this time while we have it? How can we be of service to those we work with, those others that are on our path?
Applying “walking each other home” to our lifelong journey of work and leadership takes a little bit of doing. But as we are connecting that dot, you’ll see how “walking each other home” also applies to the notion of being the kind of leader whose servant philosophy can elevate an entire workplace community into a bonded network of relationships that will see each other all the way home. This bigger picture allows us as leaders to remember that what is most important is how we treat ourselves and others. Are you kind to others at work? Are you supportive of others attempts to be helpful, or to facilitate an initiative? Do you help mend fences and solve conflicts?
What Walked You Here Will Walk You There
Gracious? Kind? Compassionate? Inspiring? Demanding but rewarding? Brave? Innovative? Communicative? These are key performance indicators that won’t likely appear on your resume. But these are the adjectives used to describe leaders who know in their own way that they are walking their colleague’s home. These are the leadership behaviors that make their people feel protected and accompanied at work.
Your resume for this life comes to a close the day you pass on. At that point, you don’t need to focus any longer on updating your marketable skills. Congratulations. But did you do your best?
Your legacy of walking people home will live on as long as people find it uplifting and inspiring to tell the story of your influence in generations to come. The way you treated others will be your brand as it resonates deep into the future. This brand is built upon the way you interact with your teams, the way you model handling stress or conflict, the way you remember names (and the names of the new babies), the way you use laughter to break the tension and reassure your people.
But under the specific characteristics of your brand lies a set of foundational building blocks that will pave your own walk with the necessary beliefs to help you walk the path of a great leader. For us, those building blocks are:
We call these the 5 Attributes of Great Leaders.
The 5 Attributes of Great Leaders do not put you at odds with transactional interactions and performance expectations, in fact they support you to do your best in all circumstances. Are you being mindful and choiceful in your decisions? Are you acting with compassion? Do you access the courage you might need to make empowered choices? Are you creative in your problem solving? Do you support others to thrive by articulating the highest vision of the organization?
By focusing on and developing the 5 Attributes, we understand that great leadership has less to do with how many one-on-one meetings we have with our direct reports or what we do in crises, but rather how clear minded we are during both. The 5 Attributes do not provide a step-by-step guide of what to do, but are instead a roadmap that helps us understand ourselves enough to be present and show up well in the most easeful or the most stressful situations. The 5 Attributes shows us the how to be, instead of what to do.
It is through showing up for others in these ways that we are truly walking them home with kindness and grace, with joy and support.
We are all on the long walk home. And we’re going to have companions along the way. No matter who we walk with, let’s make it a journey we can look back upon and smile as we walk through the next door, and arrive home.
Yours on the journey,