My personal account of finding Leadership from Within
“Did you bring your homework?” My professor in graduate school asked me in front of fellow masters and doctoral students. “Yes, but I didn’t do it exactly as you asked.”
Go figure. I’ve always been a little on the creative side. Some high level research says that might be due to my learning disability. Either way it doesn’t generally earn you points when you are stuck in the academia system.
As always I did a creative interpretation of what the assignment was. We, as a class, were asked to bring in a poem that we thought said a little bit about whom we were. I was excited about this project. Finally I would get to know a little bit more about these people who sat beside me.
My grades in college weren’t the strongest. Let’s just say that part of my understanding of college was the social aspect. Never in my wildest dreams would a girl like me ever go to graduate school. After all I had severe dyslexia and reading took much longer than the average. Not to mention I had a habit of creating different words as I read (a talent that I would keep to myself, until now.)My test scores, well, they were passing. As I was applying for graduate school I added, yet another creative part of my end, a letter that explained very clearly that my college transcripts did not accurately reflect my aptitude for learning. HA! Good right? It worked. I was on my way to being the first one in my family to attend graduate school.
I interrupted the professor as the banter with the students continued. “Professor” I said. “When will we get to the poems?” The professor answered, “I am not sure it is the right time.”
Are you kidding me, I said in my head. I knew I was not going to be able to listen to the meaningless banter of the students. I had been really looking forward to hearing some poems and gaining an understanding of people around me. I couldn’t wait. Now I was being told that “the right time” wasn’t here. What? This is the time I said to myself.
Before I knew it, I was interrupting the professor again, as she was allowing the students to meander in banter (as I saw it). “Excuse me, professor.” My third time interrupting, “I can’t do this any more. This talk of this and that seems meaningless to me. There are more important things we can talk about. Can we start with the poems, please?”
The class was dead silent. I thought to myself, this is where I am found out. I wasn’t supposed to be let in here. I sat quietly, as the professor converses openly with the teacher assistants in the room. Finally they agreed that maybe we should move forward.
“Kiannaa, would you come to the front of the room and read what you brought?” the professor said to me.
“Well, I wasn’t really thinking I would share mine. I was most interested in just moving forward.”
The professor motioned her arm for me to come to the front of the room in front of the class. I thought to myself, at least I have on a perfect suit and look presentable.
(Sigh) “Ok,” I said as I maneuvered around the chairs to get to the front. As I stood there in front of the class, I held my head high and kept my nerves together.
“Kiannaa, I would like you to read the poem you brought.”
What? I thought in my head, read? Read out loud, in front of others? That was my biggest fear. I thought everyone would know how different I was now. They would know my weakness. I didn’t want to do this. I was now standing in front of the class and I couldn’t go back to my seat. Heck, I had already interrupted the class three times. My going back was not an option.
The day the assignment came out I knew from the beginning what I wanted to share. I knew it was an expression of me in many ways. You see my poem, which really wasn’t a poem at all but a portion of a speech that I had heard one day and had it posted in my apartment. It was given publicly by Nelson Mandela the first Black African to be named president of South Africa. A leader I have much respect for.
I took a deep breath and started my poem. I did my best to keep my nerves at bay and tried diligently to read what was actually on the paper instead of the creative mix my dyslexic mind sometimes puts in place. I thought I did pretty well and was looking forward to sitting back in my empty seat in the audience. I was finished. I had survived the reading.
My professor said I was reading too fast and that she would like for me to read the poem again. What! Really? (Sigh) ok. So I would read the poem again. This time it seemed almost fluid. I was impressed with myself, again thinking I done a pretty good job.
“That was good. Would you be willing to read it again? This time I would like you to look at the class and read the next step as the class is ready to hear what you say.” The professor was so nice to me and gentle as she made this request. I had such respect for her. Of course, I would read it again. In that moment I had to understand quickly what it meant to “read the poem as the class was ready to hear.”
And so I read the poem again. This was the fourth time. I felt that I knew the words very well by now and was less nervous about reading correctly and more concerned with interpreting the directions correctly.
As I stood there looking at the eyes of my peers it seemed every nerve in my body was on edge. I could hear a high buzz in my head and wondered what it was. I didn’t have time for this. I needed to read with the “rhythm of the class”, as I interpreted it. I took a deep breath and began my reading. Slowly and purposefully I read each word of the poem.
As I did, the poem began to take on a new life. Each and every word was laid purposefully and eloquently as I was gifting it to each student. It was a gift from me to them. As I got to the last part of the poem I paused. My eyes welled with tears. I stood there, as I looked at these people who I thought were better then me. I took a deep breath as a tear rolled down my face and said: “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Great, now I was standing there and I was crying. This is not what l knew of leaders. They don’t cry in public. They aren’t vulnerable. They don’t share their deepest thoughts and fears as I just did and are still respected.
The class applauded, as I think we all knew, at some level we had experienced something special. Something completely unexpected and magical had just occurred inside of me. I had done it! I had faced one of my biggest fears of reading in front of people. I even shed a tear. I did it!
“Thank you, Kiannaa.” The professor said to me. “I have something else I would like you to try if you are willing.” Without hesitation, I accepted. After all what could possibly be harder or worse than what I had just done?
The professor said to me “I would like you to sing a note, any note you choose, and sing it to the class.”
I immediately went numb. This lady is clearly out of her mind. Sing!?! I don’t even sing in the shower. Sing in public? I don’t even know what a musical note is. This is crazy.
She briefly demonstrated “AHHHHHH”. “Are you kidding me? I can’t.” I began the nervous giggles. This was a different fear and it was one I wasn’t even aware I had moments ago.
There I stood in front of my peers, just having faced one of my biggest fears, and now this? I looked at the class, I nervous giggle took over me. Soon I realized I had to just do this. I took a few deep breaths trying to calm myself. I opened my mouth wide in hopes something called a musical note would emerge. Nothing! I tried again, “AHHH” and then it would stop. Again and again, nothing!
My final instructions were to look at the eyes of the students and when I sensed they were ready, let the note come out. These directions were clear. I was to go deep inside of me and then I would know I could sing.
The class was utterly silent. All eyes were on me. They were waiting for me to give them this musical note. I followed the directions and waited. I would look at the eyes of the students and they would look back. Holding their gaze I could see them clearly not just as people but as vibration beings. The silence was held for a long period, I was later told it was more then ten minutes, before I sensed the class was ready for my note.
Then, as I stood front and center, a tear rolled down my cheek, and out of the silence the note emerged from deep within me. A power surged as I released this big and bold “ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” I held the “ah” for a prolonged period of time until I sensed that it was immersed in each student.
In hindsight it is still one of the most powerful learning experiences I have had in my life. I changed in those brief moments. I changed how I viewed people, groups, silence, sound, and most important how I viewed me. This single experience changed the course of my life.
You see often in our life we think we have to go it alone, do it ourselves, be strong, and never cry in public. I told myself a lie for many years and now I knew that it was no longer the truth for me. I learned that the true sign of a good leader is one that allows others to be who they are and yet shows them that there is another way. Leaders emerge from those silences. They emerge from deep within each of us. We become great leaders from the inside out. It is not the clothes we wear or the image we portray that makes us stand out. When we embody courage, risk, and face our fears— this allows the leader we are meant to be to come forth.
Fears are as real as we believe. They are allowed only the power that we give to them. At any point in our lives we can choose to take our power back. We are the ones who can demolish our fears by standing in front of them and walking through. When we do, the gifts are undeniable, your inner strength will shine through, and your life will flow in a way you have never imagined. When you listen from within you will Lead In Sync.