Being Defined vs. Being Meaningful

My daughter Jeri (a high school junior) came home from school yesterday feeling defeated. She had made a B on an AP Psych test. Many of you know how I feel about bringing home B’s! While I have no problem with B’s, I knew how hard she had studied for that test. She had every word and its definition on separate index cards. I reviewed all the words with her, and she didn’t miss any in our practice sessions. She put forth an effort any parent would be proud of. However, the test revealed that the teacher didn’t just want the students to know the definitions. The exam was all about situations that involved having to clearly identify the meaning of the words through circumstances that were being described.

While I was bummed for Jeri because I knew how hard she worked on hundreds of definitions, I was impressed and taken by this learning moment. As leaders, many of us know the definition of leading. We read and retweet all the great leadership quotes. We write mission statements about being servant leaders. But those are just definitions. Would we pass the test of knowing the true significance of these definitions? Knowing the true meaning means we make definitions come alive in our actions.

Our people don’t learn from us defining our leader philosophy. They learn by living out definitions with us. For example, let me pick on myself. Yesterday morning Impacting Leaders (@impactingleadrs) tweeted, “If we all share the same opinion, our strength as leaders is weakened because like-minded opinions won’t bring out the best in the leader.” That’s a great statement. A good definition. The meaning however, isn’t so simple. The actions I have to engage in for this quote to become meaningful and alive are:

  • Hire people who think higher and differently from me
  • Allow and listen as others disagree and debate my opinion
  • Defer to others’ talents and be ok with not being the smartest woman around the table
  • Prove that my answers are not always right by submitting to someone else’s idea
  • Give power to my team by believing in their great minds and abilities

You see, the definition of leadership is much different from the true meaning of leadership.

Defining positive attitude is much different from the true meaning of having a positive attitude.

Defining faith is much different from living the true meaning of faith.

Instead of defining ourselves, let’s live with meaning. When we live with meaning, we define who we are in a way that others can see it through our circumstances.

(A note to Jeri… thanks for sharing your life with me and helping me learn with you.)

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