I am always telling executives to face their discomfort, walk into it head on, if it is what their people need. “Leadership is a calling! And if the members of the organization call, you answer!”
“I don’t care if it’s awkward, or difficult, or out of your comfort zone or preferred style, move forward and answer the call! Now!” I say, with relatively little empathy. “Hero up!” my friend Craig would say. “I don’t care if you’re nervous, or that you might get emotional, or look shy! Be YOU, be authentic, that is what people need and want from you, not PERFECTION!”
This is all the more reason why I should feel ashamed at my complete failure to follow my own counsel last week. My son, who is 12, was upset and over-tired, and complaining to me about something. I was equally upset and over-tired and made the mistake of saying, “what do you wish was different?”
“I wish you would play football more with me in the yard.”
“What??!!” I said.
“I SAID, I wish you would play football more with me in the YARD!!”
“Is that metaphorical?” Cause in case you haven’t noticed, honey, I am not the football playing type. At all. Not even a little.
“No. It is not meta—whatever-you-said.”
“Is this your way of saying you want to spend more time with me, or chat more, or do more fun things together?”
“No, I want to play FOOTBALL with you!”
Now, before you start to empathize with Josh, you should know two things. First, Josh is commonly referred to by friends and strangers alike as “The Tank.” Second, Josh is one of five sons in our family. There is even one son who plays high school football. My husband played college football, and calls people by their last names and stuff, like people who play sports with “balls” are often wont to do.
That is not me.
“Why ME?! Why play football with ME? Can’t we watch Star Trek? Play board games? Get icecream? Anything BUT football??!!!”
I tried to explain to him that I just couldn’t do that football thing he (clearly) wanted me to do.
But then he reminded me I have always said “Women and girls can do ANYTHING!” And, even though this is not the line of reasoning I used, I was … caught in the middle of my own web.
So, I played football.
I can actually throw a football, but it kind of hurts, and I don’t think it’s supposed to. We were good, and having fun, until he started making me ‘run plays.’ I ran a touchdown (yay!), but he said I was ‘out of bounds??’
“It’s MY FRONT YARD?! I pay its mortgage, for crying out loud!! How could I actually BE out of bounds in my own damned yard??!! Line of scrimmage!? I cannot see it! How do YOU know where it is? You can’t see when your room is littered with dirty clothes, but you can see an invisible line of scrimmage, whatever the hell that means, in a yard, MY YARD, covered with leaves??”
Then it was his turn to run the play. About halfway through I realized (uh oh) this meant he was going to tackle me and my survival skills kicked in something fierce. As he came toward me in slow motion, head down and ready to “Tank” his own mother, I held out the ball yelling, “TAKE IT! TAKE IT!! I JUST GOT MY TEETH CLEANED AND I NEED THEM! ALL OF THEM!!!! FOR CHEWIIIINNNNNGGGGG!!!!! Here, take it and RUNNNNNNN, FORREST, RUNNNN!!!!!!!!” There were no other players. He took it, but held onto me.
Breathless, I said, “awww, honey, are we hugging??!
“NO! NO, MOM!! There is NO HUGGING in football, mom! You fumbled the ball!! When the defense takes the ball from the offense, it is called a fumble, unless it was an interception, which it wasn’t. It was definitely a fumble.”
“It was NOT a fumble, it was a GIFT! A GIFT!!!”
He just looked at me for a minute. Like my dog looks at me when I talk to her. Then he smiled.
“I guess I’m not the best person to play football with, huh?” I said.
“You are really fun, thanks for playing. I wish you liked the tackling part more like my brothers, but this was great. Want to do it again tomorrow?”
“Yes,” I said.
Actually, I don’t. But, he wants me to, and I am his leader, and being his mom is my highest call to serve as a leader. I am the person who will answer to him no matter when, no matter what. And, the fact that he wants me to play, that he calls for me, is the most important part of all.
We are not leaders without the people who call to us, call for us. We can answer as we prefer, as we are comfortable, but then we are simply managers of the lowest order. Having the courage to be the leader that our colleagues need, and to answer their call, no matter what, gives us the profound opportunity to stretch and grow, and be imperfect, maybe, but genuine, authentic and present.
Will you answer that call?