A little bird told me: Leading from the heart

A little bird told me to vote for Bernie Sanders.

I won’t tell you whether I plan to take the bird’s advice, or whether you should. Today I don’t want to talk about politics. I do want you to watch the video of what happened last Friday when the bird interrupted one of Sanders’ rallies in Portland, Oregon.

First, notice the enthusiasm and the energy of Sanders’ young supporters.

Seeing those young people exulting in the moment, I feel like I’m 18 again. I feel like I can see symbolism in a little bird, and that I can have a part in changing the world.

Second, notice what Sanders does. He feeds the energy, and he feeds off of the energy. He ad libs a few lines. You can sense everyone at the rally jumping onto the Sanders bandwagon. Within a few minutes #BirdieSanders is a thing on Twitter.

After the video ends, after I return to my real age (which is considerably more than 18), here’s what I’ve learned.

Bernie Sanders, who wants to be the leader of this country, showed me that a wise leader tunes in to his followers’ emotions and channels those emotions for his, and for everyone’s, benefit.

When his followers began to go gaga over a little bird, Sanders set aside his prepared speech and enjoyed the moment with them. That little gesture earned him a tremendous amount of affection and loyalty.

As a leader, if I’m lucky enough to have team members who are enthusiastic, I should seek to understand where that enthusiasm comes from so that I can nurture it and perhaps even spread it.

On the other hand, if team members are sad or discouraged, I need to tune into that too. Not to share those emotions, but to empathize and — again — to try to understand the source of those emotions.

Fear is the hardest emotion for a leader to handle. Some people are so blind to this that they actually try to lead by instilling fear. That isn’t leading. It’s bullying.

Even when the source of the fear is external to the team, fearful people are highly prone to making mistakes. Sometimes they shut down completely. Even worse, they risk spreading their fear to the rest of the team.

As a leader, again, I need to empathize and seek to understand — while not letting the fear overtake me. Maybe my people’s fears are well founded: a project is going off the rails, there are rumors of layoffs. The truth goes a long way here: by shining light on the situation, by making the unknown known, by making things less scary.

Even when the truth is hard to handle, sometimes all it takes to rein in fear is for people to see that their leader is being forthright, and that everyone is in the same boat.

I’m not an emotional person. I tend to work, and to lead, more with my head than with my heart. However, #BirdieSanders reminds me that I need to give place to my heart too, if I want to be an effective worker and an effective leader.

video source: Portland Oregonian

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