December 20, 2010

Drew Dudley and his "Lollipop Moment" at Mount Allison University

When I was glancing over Google Alerts for Mount Allison on Google Reader (which is a pretty great tool, both personal and academic and which I can't really contribute any new substantive comments on but think you should really check out) I came across a guest post by Mount Allison graduate Drew Dudley about his conception of leadership. It's an interesting note and I thought I'd share it with you.

But first here's a video teaser from his talk at TEDxToronto.

Dudley performs as a motivational speaker (not quite in the style of Matt Foley but I've heard almost as entertaining) at Mount Allison during frosh week so if you want to hear him...don't forget to come to Mount Allison in the fall. Here's the post archived from

Life Lessons

Are you a leader?

For 10 years I have travelled across Canada asking people that question. I have found that more often than not, people simply aren’t comfortable saying they deserve the title.
I’ve come to realize that we’ve turned leadership into something beyond us, something bigger than us.  We’ve made it about extraordinary skills, amazing achievements and life-changing moments.  In short, we’ve made leadership about changing the world.

However, leadership is anything but beyond us.  In fact, it’s within our grasp every day should we choose to seize it.  A number of remarkable people and incredible stories led me to that realization, but perhaps none more than a moment that occurred on my final night at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick.  (I had just completed my BA in sociology, and despite falling in love with the campus, its people, and the east coast in general, I was returning to Ontario to take a job with the University of Toronto.) A young woman had walked up to me and announced, “I remember the first time I met you.” With that, she launched into a story from four years earlier.

“I was going to quit my first day here,” she told me.  “I was standing in line to register and just knew I wasn’t ready for this place.  But just as I turned to my mom and dad to tell them we had to go home, you walked out of the building right next to us.  You were holding a sign promoting a fundraising event, and handing out lollipops to people in line.”

“When you got to me,” she continued, “you stared for a moment, and then smiled, reached into your bucket, and handed a lollipop to the guy standing next to me.”

“’Buddy,’ you said, ‘you need to give a lollipop to the beautiful woman standing next to you.’”

“I have never seen anyone get so red, so fast,” she laughed.  “He wouldn’t even look at me when he held out the lollipop.  I felt so sorry for him, I just had to take it.”

“As soon as I did,” she continued, “you got this incredibly severe look on your face, turned to my parents, and loud enough for everyone to hear said, ‘Look at that!  Just look at that!  First day away from home … and already she’s taking candy from a STRANGER!’”

“Everyone for 20 feet in every direction started to laugh,” she said.  “And I know this sounds ridiculous, but in that moment I just knew I shouldn’t quit.  I knew I was where I was supposed to be … and I knew I was home.”

“I haven’t spoken to you in the four years since that day,” she told me.  “But I heard that you were leaving, and I just needed to take a moment to tell you that you’ve been an incredibly important person in my life, and I’m going to miss you.  Good luck.”

And with that she turned and began walking away.  She had gone just a few steps when she turned around.

“One more thing you should probably know,” she said smiling.  “I’m still dating that guy.”

A year and a half later, I received an invitation to their wedding.

The most interesting part of that story?  I do NOT remember that moment.  I have searched my memory for it, but it’s simply not there.

It was a revelatory moment for me when I realized that perhaps the greatest impact I’d ever had on another human being came in a moment I didn’t even remember.  But I’ve come to realize that while we often evaluate ourselves as people and as leaders based on the impact our plans have, it’s often the unplanned consequences of how we act every day that have the greatest impact.

“Lollipop moments” are moments when someone says something or does something that makes another person feel better about their life.  Almost all of us can think of someone who created a “lollipop moment” for us, but more often than not, we’ve never told that person. The world is full of people who have made a tremendous impact on someone else’s life and have never been told about it.  Many never had the chance to feel that extraordinary moment when someone says, “you changed my life for the better.”   You may be one of them.  Yes, we should all work hard to bring more good things into the world, but imagine how much better the world could be if we simply took the time to better recognize the good that’s already being done?

But it can be frightening to think of ourselves as that powerful.  It can be scary to realize how much of an impact we can have on other peoples’ lives.  And as long as we treat leadership as something beyond us—as something bigger than us—as long as we keep it about changing the world, we give ourselves an excuse not to expect it from ourselves and from each other every day.

“Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”

These opening lines of a brilliant poem by Marianne Williamson capture perfectly the feelings that I believe keep us from embracing the idea of ourselves as leaders.  However, if we are to see real change in this world we need to begin to embrace leadership as something we practice every day, not something that “one day” we might be worthy of.  We need to move beyond our fears and let our children see us value the impact we have on each other, more than titles, money, power and influence.

The fact is, leadership is not about changing the world, because there is no world.  There are only six billion understandings of it.  And when you change one person’s understanding of the world—of what they’re capable of, of how many people care about them, of how powerful an agent for change they can be—you change the whole definition of leadership.

If we come to understand and redefine leadership in that way, including those “lollipop moments,” I think we can change everything.

1 comment:

  1. Well, this is awkward...,6