3 Aug

I recently returned from my fifth year helping to run our Rotary district’s week-long youth leadership camp. How does a volunteer team of more than forty mostly-20-somethings help to empower nearly 150 mostly-17-year-olds?

A paraphrase of what one camper said last year summarizes it well: “I came here expecting to learn a cardboard cutout of what it means to be a great leader. Instead, you showed me me.” The camp curriculum and process gets to the heart of recognizing, respecting and using individual uniqueness and gifts, both one’s own and those of others, as the most powerful way to lead.

The innumerable instances of such ownership beginning to come to the fore are quite moving. The youth quoted above beginning to realize that she is enough and has what it takes, and doesn’t have to do things the way others would or fill an image others might have.

The immensely-talented and very self-critically shy pianist who chose to step onto stage for a talent showcase and who, with the encouragement of the nearly two-hundred in the audience, stayed restart after restart, then stayed even longer once she was joined on her piano bench by another camper who strode up, sat down, and simply said, “Teach me.” That second camper saw what was in the panist and stepped forward as who she was to help bring it out.

The camper who has wanted to dance in public but who feared doing so for all it might reveal, deciding to arrange and lead a talent routine with some other campers who supported him in taking that huge step into the light. Courageous, open and honest. Quite talented, previously hidden.

If, as I have been told for fifty-plus years, I am uniquely created by God, even in His image, then that “I” is my part in creation. Whether by the mind of God or nature’s course, we are each one unique aspect of an infinite, dynamic puzzle-picture. If I seek to be another aspect, to become like another piece, then the big picture is missing what I am; the image is not complete. The story demands each of us as we are.

If being my Way is my call and challenge, then its corollary is recognizing and respecting the Way of others. Who am I to attempt to edit or improve either the other elements or the big picture?

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”
— Michelangelo

I believe that as a human being, if not a leader, I am to seek, understand, respect, support — help reveal — what is inside of others. Reveal? Taekwondo seems, on many levels, to not be about revealing but about shaping and molding, bumping and nudging and guiding, even pushing, things into form: bodies, actions, attitudes, behaviors. I can do this in a lazy, selfish, closed way or I can do it in a much more masterful way. (OK, that link is an exaggeration, but exaggeration is very often based on truth.) That Way is respectful of people and their uniqueness. That Way does not damage the raw materials in the molding process. Only that Way can be sustained over time and is endless in it possibilities. So, I try to recognize and work with what qualities and preferences exist in others, versus acting based on what I wish were there.

Being able to lead and teach in The Way starts with my own authenticity. If I know, show and live what I am (hey, we’re all God’s Gift to mankind after all!), then I can begin to honor that in others. I’ve come to understand the second part of the Greatest Commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” in new ways. I speak from experience when I say that until I could claim that place of authenticity and vulnerability for myself, I could not be truly open to others as they are.

Love my neighbor: recognize, understand, respect, appreciate, savor, embrace and respond to the unique, individual aspects and person of my neighbor, just as I do with myself.

Boy, this takes effort. Intentional practice.
And time. S p a c e. Ultimate patience.
It takes noticing. Observing. Listening. Being present.
It takes setting aside my own wants. Affirming. Being open to the possibilities.
It takes withholding judgement. Not reacting.
It takes asking, not assuming. Real understanding.
Accepting the Gift. My own and theirs.

I fail. Pause; breathe. Look again; Re-spect. When the great Chris-elangelo strolls in to sculpt with a particular pre-cast expectation in my head, then I chisel away marble that is, in fact, an important part of What-Is-To-Be-Revealed.

Look at this amazing eagle I made! I gave the world another eagle!
Ummm, it was supposed to be an antelope. The world needs antelopes, too. In fact, the world was supposed to get that antelope.
But I really like eagles! I want an eagle! Everybody likes eagles!

Can I see and respond to the good qualities my wife actually offers, rather than what I wish were present? I still discover new ones each year to which I was previously blind. Can I teach and motivate a child by using and multiplying the particular energy and uniqueness they put out, rather than trying to squelch it? Can I develop my relationship with a colleague by affirming the positive potential I discover in sincerely watching, listening, asking, rather than just assume, coexist, tolerate, or avoid?

I think we all know when we’ve hit some pay-dirt, when in that particular moment something connected with a spouse, a child, a coworker, a student. Electricity in the air, a Creative spark. There was Energy; the beginning of Momentum. The Good in us responded to the Gift in them.

Notice the unique, the good, the best, the gift, that is in someone. Build on that. Forget the rest. That is real leadership. Real teaching. Real humanness.

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
— Michelangelo


3 Responses to “Maestro”

  1. Michelle August 3, 2016 at 10:18 #

    Thanks for the kind words this morning. I was exactly what I needed to hear!

    Good article. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Drew Schmitt August 3, 2016 at 16:04 #


    Another great post. What resonated with me most was the notion that remaining open, and honest to what lies inside (or beneath, if we stick with Chris-elangelo’s metaphor) is so important to being a leader, and, possibly more importantly, for assisting with the development of new leaders. It is my opinion that facilitating the growth of leaders also helps grow the teacher/facilitator as a leader as well. Remaining true to what lies inside of you, no matter what the circumstances are, is extremely important to truly realizing your potential as a leader. What is so beautiful about this notion is that people change as they get older, or experience new parts of life. So too does a leader change during their lifetime. What remains are the core beliefs and leadership foundation that was built at the very beginning. Continuing to journey towards mastering leadership is rewarding, but assisting others in the process is even more rewarding, and is loads of fun. The world needs eagles, antelopes, and whatever other masterpiece creations others envision. As for me, I think I envision a platypus. Maybe I won’t end up as a platypus when its all said and done. All I know is that I am always pleasantly surprised each time a new portion of my statue is revealed.

    Thanks for the stimulating post. Keep ’em coming!


    • Chris Correia September 4, 2016 at 16:54 #

      Drew, thanks for reading, thinking and engaging! I’m finally replying. You are so right about changing, or maybe developing or evolving, over time. Too, I agree that helping to empower others somehow also further empowers oneself. If you are a platypus, then you are a platypus. But, over time, we will all see what a platypus has to offer, which is surely a lot more than people might think! 🙂

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