“What of my future self is in me right now?” (Radiolab- Season 12- Episode 4- Black Box)
Did you know that if you peeled back the skin of a caterpillar, you’d see all of the elements of a butterfly already formed and waiting to emerge? A colleague of mine attended a staff development session recently in which an important question was posed: “Who saw your wings before you did?”
As you might imagine, this question generated considerable conversation. Mentors take many forms, but we can almost all identify key people who came into our lives and saw something in us that we had not yet seen in ourselves.
I would never have imagined the professional journey I have taken without the encouragement of family, friends and colleagues who believed in me. My parents raised me to believe that there was nothing I should not try…that I had within me the capacity to achieve great things. My husband supported me through degree after degree, always reassuring me when I was in doubt.
Leadership within and beyond the classroom would not have been possible without the wisdom of the mentors who led by example and reached out to give me opportunities to grow. One in particular changed the trajectory of my life. There are no words to thank him adequately. He saw my wings before I could have imagined I had them. All of this has been fun, but I’ve had to reflect on what I have done to be that same mentor for others. Whose wings have I seen? What have I been doing to reach out to others and to help them see their gifts, their strengths, their possibilities?
Look carefully at the people in your life. Identify someone who might need encouragement to take on a new challenge. Reach out. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to let you know they believe in you. Our schools are filled with talented, passionate people who may need inspiration to take on leadership roles.
Listen to the people with whom you spend time. It can be easy to work or even to live with people without really listening to their ideas, their thoughts, their dreams. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to listen to inspire you to take action. Effective leaders are approachable. No matter how brief the interaction, be present, really listen.
Learn what the people in your life do well. Spend time exploring the strengths of your team. No one set of skills leads to success, and it frequently takes a mentor to help you see how your unique combination of strengths can be leveraged to make you the most effective.
There is a powerful, affirming feeling that comes from being mentored. Few experience success without a series of people who made it possible. A grounded leader though is focused not on themselves but on the people they can nurture.
So whose wings are you seeing?