There are so many different expectations that we as a society place on each other and in turn place on ourselves – to be the fearless leader, the innovative business owner, the most caring friend, loving mother, passionate lover, amazing cook and incredible housekeeper, among other things. I’m exhausted just writing that list!
The question is this: did society set in stone these perceived rules of behaviour, or is it pressure that we are unintentionally (and unnecessarily) putting on ourselves?
Is the need to be all things to all people exhausting us and actually putting a gag on the confidence and willingness to have the conversations that we really want to be having, the conversations that matter, the conversations that will drive change?
I remember attending a speaking competition with my nine-year old daughter last year and being amazed at the ability of children to challenge themselves and say ‘I can do this’ without a hint of self-doubt. One boy in particular lost his train of thought – in fact, he forgot his words completely – and in front of a packed hall, ran off in tears. And yet, five minutes later, after some very deep breaths and I would imagine some noisy and heartfelt nose-blowing, he got back out there and delivered.
That takes bravery, courage, and the ability to learn from a failure – and move on. What an innate gift he already has!
The eventual winner of said speaking competition wasn’t the loudest speaker, or the funniest, or the best-rehearsed. They were composed and had, even at this young age, quiet strength and great delivery. They stepped up and spoke from the heart.
When do we lose this ability to speak so freely, with such confidence and conviction?
When do we learn to be fearful of speaking up and speaking out?
When do we choose to hope change will happen versus having the courageous conversations that are needed to drive change?
I am often reminded of Lieutenant General David Morrison’s now famous and often-quoted line about behavioural standards – “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”
Sometimes there is an overwhelming temptation not to say what we think, not to speak up about actions that are unacceptable. To simply say “nope, can’t be bothered, I am handing this one off, it’s too hard”. But we have to step up, speak up and have the courageous conversations if we are going to be part of a collective that is driving change.
We have to all adult the hell up.
This is what it means to be a leader, and this is what we have to do every day, in every way, with every decision we make, large or small.
Because – and I say this again deliberately – if we don’t, who will?
The standard you sit with your lips shut tight against, with your ears closed against, with your arms folded against, with your mind shuttered against – that is standard of ignorance, fear and disgust.
It is a standard that means you are making a choice to be a poor leader, to not stand up and say ‘this is unacceptable’.
Just as for those kids, as they stepped up to the stage and let the words fly free speaking their minds on the what was wrong with the world and what they dreamed for a future world – the minute you voice your dreams, your opinions, your values and your words means they become public property. This is a very big moment, as it is actualisation and takes significant personal courage.
Speaking freely? Take a lead from their bravery. Start making your choice, step up, have the courageous conversations and adult the hell up.