Monday Mornings with Madison

Finding Leadership in Lollipop Moments

Word Count: 1,633
Estimated Read Time: 6 ½ Min.

The standard definition of leadership is “the art of motivating a group of people to act toward achieving a common objective.”  However, former First Lady Rosalyn Carter once said that “a great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”  Although not the common definition used by scholars, it is an apt description for what leadership essentially is and does.   A leader guides a group toward the place where they need to be even if they don’t realize, understand or embrace it.  We associate a multitude of exalted traits to leadership.  Leaders are:  intelligent, trustworthy, humble, accountable, communicative, articulate, empathic, honest, ethical, self-controlled, confident, fair, decisive, organized, hard-working, likeable, sympathetic, courageous, visionary, principled, dedicated, creative, inspired passionate and, of course, influential.  This multitude of attributes associated with leadership make leaders sound elevated, exalted and exceptional.

However, Drew Dudley, internationally-acclaimed leadership speaker, Wall Street Journal best-selling author and TED-X speaker, sees leadership very differently.  Mr. Dudley’s views on leadership arose from his time running the leadership development program at the University of Toronto and two decades of working in the field of leadership development.  So how does his definition differ?

In a nutshell, Mr. Dudley believes leadership is not a characteristic reserved for the extraordinary.  And it is not a slew of traits that are likely to elude all but the most distinguished, educated and accomplished people in any industry or endeavor.  Instead, Mr. Dudley thinks real leadership can be found in everyday moments demonstrated by everyday people, whether or not they have a leadership title, money, power or influence.  He calls them Lollipop Moments, and they are far different than what most leadership books, experts, blogs and podcasts proclaim.

In his book, This is Day One: A Practical Guide to Leadership That Matters, Mr. Dudley explains that a Lollipop Moment is a small yet powerfully significant instance when someone – anyone — impacts another person’s life in a significant way that alters the trajectory of that person’s life forever.  So why lollipops?  It harkens back to a day decades ago when Mr. Dudley was at a university trying to raise funds for a Cystic Fibrosis charitable event.  He was dressed to draw attention, with a big hat, and was handing out lollipops to college students in line for Orientation.  He saw a young woman standing in line, with her parents, waiting their turn.  She was apprehensive, unsure that she belonged there.  Behind her was another student; a young man.  Mr. Dudley walked up to the male student and handed him the lollipop and said loudly and with a lot of fanfare that he absolutely must give it to the young lady in front of him.  Both students were more than a little embarrassed and bashful, but the young man took the lollipop and handed it to the young lady.  Mr. Dudley then turned toward her parents and loudly proclaimed, “See that?  She’s been here less than a day and already she is taking candy from strangers!”  Of course, every laughed.  But when Mr. Dudley tells the story, he admits he has no recollection of that day or event.  He only learned about it years later when he received an invitation to the wedding of that young lady to that young man.  The backstory is that the young lady was feeling very apprehensive that day at Orientation and did not think she belonged at the college.   In fact, she was about to tell her parents that she wanted to quit and go home.  But, that moment — when she received the lollipop — suddenly made her feel like she was in exactly the right place.  What’s more, she and the young man started to date after that “meet cute” and eventually got engaged to marry.  They found Mr. Dudley and invited him to their wedding.  They explained how that lollipop moment had changed the trajectory of both their lives.  She had obtained a college degree.  They married.  They went on to have children together.  In that seemingly small act, Mr. Dudley had changed two people’s lives both professionally and personally in a profound way.  That is what he called “Everyday Leadership”.

By that definition, most anyone can be a leader and leadership moments are happening all around us.  It is not just found in the heads of major organizations and governments.  It is not just reserved for the founders and heads of multi-national corporations.  And it is not just inherent in the Generals, Chiefs, Admirals and other top brass of the armed forces.  Mr. Dudley explains that leadership is not bigger than the average person.  Leadership happens everywhere and is found in the small moments that too often fail to be recognized but have a major impact.

By thinking of leadership as something exalted and beyond the average person, we use it as an excuse not to provide it or expect it from others.  But, by embracing leadership in everyday actions, each person can be recognized and thus become an “everyday leader.” In fact, everyone has already demonstrated leadership in such everyday moments.  Everyone has had a moment – a moment of impact – when something he/she said or did changed the trajectory of another person’s life forever.  It happened and, in all likelihood, the person probably never knew it.  These moments are not singularly exclusive to managers and executives.  These everyday leadership moments happen to teachers, public speakers, cashiers, waiters at restaurants, and mail carriers.  They happen to flight attendants, bank tellers, carpenters and hair stylists.

Everyday Leadership Actions

Everyday leadership is defined in the ways it is demonstrated daily, through consistency in:

  • Being a good person;
  • Leading with a moral compass in all decisions;
  • Celebrating the wins;
  • Being the light people need in the dark places;
  • Setting the world on fire with one’s own unique talents and ways; and
  • Telling others they’re doing great.

What does that look like in reality?  In Mr. Dudley’s case, he was being the light in the darkness… a light for students who were apprehensive and nervous about starting college.  And he was setting the world on fire with his own unique talent for drawing attention, speaking boldly and making others feel at ease through laughter.

Another example of Everyday Leadership was seen when in 2015 Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments – the credit card processing company – decided to pay everyone at the company a minimum salary of $70k a year.   This was hugely controversial and prompted a tidal wave of media coverage and prompted a lawsuit by his brother and co-founder of the company who objected to the pay raises for so many employees.  And, there was even grumbling by some that raising everyone’s salary meant there was less ability to raise the salaries of those who were already top earners at Gravity.  But, ultimately, just two out of the 120 employees left the company at that time.  Even more controversial was that Price himself cut his salary down from $1 million to match the $70,000 he was paying his employees.  While there were articles questioning his motives – since he had previously been earning over $1.1M a year and had purchased a $900K home cash before taking the massive pay cut – Price’s leadership and motives were tested again when Covid hit.

In March 2020, with the onset of Covid, the company was still boasting an impressive employee retention rate of over 90% and the company was still profitable. However, when the economy contracted in April 2020 — and small business transactions dropped by over 50% — Gravity took a huge hit. Gravity lost about half of its revenue.  Price convened Gravity’s 200 employees for an urgent Zoom call.  That call was a lollipop moment.  Price explained that the company was burning $1.5 million a month in cash, and would run out of cash in just four months if that continued.  He was being a good person, by being honest and transparent with his team.  But, in light of the situation, some employees offered to work for free, and several dozen offered a 50% reduction in wages.  In fact, 98% of Gravity’s employees agreed to have their wages cut.  Gravity adopted a modified version of the solution proposed by employees.  No employee’s salary was reduced by more than half, and those who earned less than $100,000 received a cut of no more than 30%.  By July 2020, the company had stabilized and began paying back employees who had sacrificed their income.  Clearly, Price built a team who believed in the company’s mission, and viewed the company as a worker-owned co-op.  And Price’s behavior in 2015 and again in 2020 demonstrated everyday leadership by leading with a moral compass in all decisions.  And, in bringing the problem to the team, he allowed them all to demonstrate everyday leadership by being the light in the darkness.

Leadership is not restricted to C-Suite execs and those with title, money, power and/or influence.  Leadership is found in the lollipop moments; those tiny moments when people behave in honorable, impactful, influential ways.   Those moments – the ones each person creates; the ones each person chooses to acknowledge; the ones each person chooses to pay forward; and the ones each person expresses gratitude and appreciation for – are the real, everyday leadership moments.

Changing one person’s understanding of what they are capable of doing, of how much people care about them, of what a powerful agent for change they can be, is powerful enough to change the world.  That is leadership.  It is not exalted, elevated or exceptional.  It is ordinary, simple and commonplace… and it is also priceless.   Look for those lollipop moments.  Acknowledge them when they happen to you.  Embrace them when someone recognizes it in something you did.  And watch how these moments change the world for the better.

Quote of the Week
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

© 2021, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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