I heard a piece on the radio the other day stating that one of the reasons we feel such a strange relationship with time since the pandemic began is because we are not creating as many memories. Of course, there was more to it than that, but it got me thinking back to a favorite question I’ve posed to nonprofit board and staff members during the last two years: “Looking back on this time, what do you want your leadership footprint to be?”
A leadership footprint combines how we each show up to our work from a place of deep beliefs and core values mixed with the positive actions we take that are bigger than ourselves. It is about the future. It is about impact. It is about the conscious choices we make every day that we hope will have a lasting impact on the world we care about. Interestingly, versions of this concept of a leadership footprint are couched in how we depart or leave an experience. I am more interested, though, in this question as a way to see how our actions today inform our current practice knowing that the ripples could be felt for generations to come.
Throughout 2020 and 2021, the responses to how both seasoned leaders and those new to nonprofit work see their footprint has been inspiring, thought provoking, and the source for wonderfully collaborative conversations. As we enter into the New Year, I am adding a twist to this question in an effort to feel more aligned with time and lessen the unending “blursday” feeling. I’m asking: “What will your leadership footprint be in 2022, and how will you instill the milestones of those efforts in your memory?”
What makes a memory stick is up to you, but the idea is to make it sticky and weighty enough to take up welcomed time and space – and by doing so, to infuse energy into your day, week, month, and year. We have spoken so much about the exhaustion of this time and the endlessness of this space. This sense combined with the amazing but challenging habit in our nonprofit culture of just putting our heads down and getting the work done could be the very recipe for missing the purposeful memories of our leadership journey. Truly, in a time of all this “doing behavior,” we could easily experience fewer emotions and feelings – the very things that help us remember.
What would it take instead to make our intentions more conscious? What would it take to turn all the doing into more being and more remembering? Maybe this will require an artistic expression of your aspirations in pictures or in a song, dance, or poem. Maybe this means you will take time to share it verbally with others and engage in some supportive activities with your peers or team to create a process of accountability and reflection. Maybe it will look like journaling, prayer, or meditation as a more integrated part of your practice. There is no prescription – no perfect response. Just an act of making your intentions visible, connected, and infused with positive emotion.
Typically each year, I have picked a guiding word as my “footprint.” And that word has truly been an anchor for me, and I hope also for my team, and maybe for you, too. I know your words and goals have certainly influenced my way of being as we have navigated these challenging times together. For 2022, I am moving away from a single word to a footprint that looks like this…listen to lead.
This time in our lives requires us to learn our way forward. Learning comes in many forms, of course, and as I reflect on my memories from the last few years, it was the moments that I was really leaning in and listening that have stuck with me the most. In and of itself, the act of listening is wonderful, yet even more is that deeply listening results in a feeling of being more connected, more activated, more spontaneous with my joy, more emotionally vulnerable, just more of all the things that make this work meaningful. Leaders are often called on to talk, and certainly there are moments when that is appropriate, but leadership is more than that. A common refrain in our work is “listen to learn, speak to be understood,” and it is true enough. But more than that, listen to lead is about recognizing the power dynamics at play. It is about acknowledging the bias of who often is talking and seeking to shift that dynamic. It is about leaning into the quiet spaces that build trust with curiosity and a willingness to learn and share and grow together. This is my intentional footprint for 2022, and I look forward to so many new memories as a result.
There is no doubt that 2022 could feel like “deja vu” when it comes to pandemic life, but what if we each decide to consciously mark time with lasting memories? What if we decide to have our footprint on this year be visually on purpose? What will your footprint be for 2022? How do you want to mark the time? What do you want to remember?