The Art of Transcendent Leadership in a World Overwhelmed with "Titles"
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I still remember the first time I was given a “title”.
It was on the basketball court. Me, a young enthusiastic 13 year old who got bent on a goal of beating out 200 other athletes to earn a spot on British Columbia’s Under 17 Provincial Team and compete for a national championship (Big surprise!).
My Title was “A Grade 9er”, which was meant to make me feel severely out of place amongst the “Grade 11 and 12ers” who made up the entire rest of the talent.
I remember the first time I was addressed with that belittling title, it felt like a knockout blow to my ego and self esteem. The intangible imposition of rank & seniority, largely based upon age (despite being a ‘grade 9er’ I was still 6’3 and 200 pounds) made me feel inferior as an athlete and leader.
I felt handicapped and defeated right out of the gate and began the tryout on a deflated, sour note.
Then, at one point after experiencing a complete Flow moment - making a play no one else at the camp could, I realized none of it was true.
Sure, I may not have had the same experience as some, the strength of others, nor the earned confidence that comes with being a veteran…
But I had more heart and determination than anyone in that gym, and I decided I could fake the rest.
And so, for the next several weeks of tryouts and training camps that’s exactly what I did. I told myself I was on the same playing field as all those other athletes and then I identified areas where I could accel, even beyond my older competitors.
The Smallest Things Make the Biggest Difference
I decided that I would be the most encouraging and loudest player on the floor at all times, constantly communicating and encouraging my team throughout every drill and game. Since I didn’t have the authority of age or status to lead through traditional positional power, I would choose to lead through empowerment and positive support of others.
This was strategically layered on another intentional decision - to be the hardest working player at camp, in every moment of every drill, every single day. I knew I had heart - it was time to put it all on the line, diving on loose balls, taking charges, leaping over bleachers to save a play if I had to - relentless effort.
And finally I decided I was going to show the most dedication. This meant showing up first to practices, warming up and getting extra work in before anyone else, staying late to do more of the same. Being as intentional about my rest and recovery as I was being on the court, and maintaining a positive attitude even when it would be easy to join other players in negativity.
You Are Not Defined by Your Title
I still remember the shock of surprise as one by one players who were older, stronger, more experienced and confident all around me were cut. Each cut was a small boost of encouragement and affirmation that my title didn’t matter, a reminder that the little things I had religiously committed to were paying off and being noticed.
By the end of the long and grueling 2 month tryout process I was sitting with 15 other ‘Grade 12ers’ awaiting the final round of cuts.
I remember being in a state of euphoric nervousness as my coaches sat me down. I could tell there had been some deliberation about the decision which cut the euphoria and multiplied the nervousness. They proceeded with the verdict:
“Tyrell, we’re surprised to still see you here... There are a lot of kids we have let go who are more skilled than you, kids who played on the Provincial team last year and have more experience… But the hustle, toughness, and leadership you have showed over these last 2 months have proven more valuable than any of those other pieces combined.
You have made the team contingent upon bringing that same attitude to practice and games every day.”
I had done it.
Of course, being just a little ‘Grade 9er’ I had to clarify what the word “contingent” meant, and I then assured them that’s exactly what I would do.
At the end of that Provincial team season I started our final handful of games at the Canadian National Championships and was one of the most respected players on the team.
A World Built on Titles, Structure and Seniority
Not much has changed as I’ve accumulated experiences in all areas of my life since then. We live in a world where traditional hierarchy and seniority are cherished. There are still too many leaders in the world who believe that power is gained through the accumulation of titles, appointed authority, and “putting in your time”.
We are constantly conditioned to join the rat race of graduating from one title to the next, which in turn subconsciously re-enforces us to replicate this behaviour towards others. Whether in sports, religion, politics, work, or life - the function of receiving and giving titles gives us the excuse to remain comfortable.
We give others titles to remind ourselves we are better than others, and we use our own title as a crutch to remain inside of the safety that predetermined sandbox.
I’m here to tell you this way of thinking is a fallacy. It’s old school.
Game Changing Influence and Leadership
Instead of defining your worth based on your role or title (as we are so often told to do), consider what it would look like if you valued yourself based on every micro-interaction and experience of your life. You intentionally chose to show up simply as your best and whole self in each conversation, meeting, relationship and experience life throws your way. You took action based on your heart’s truest desires and passions and the real impact you want to have on the world.
An amazing thing happens when we shed our titles and start to show up as our complete selves - we begin to stand out. We begin to be noticed by the people and communities we yearn to surround ourselves in life - effectively pulling them towards us.
In tapping into a much deeper and profound level of influence we are all able to transcend almost all barriers of titles and labels across all areas of life.
The net positive impact and influence you have through the intention you set in each interaction will quickly become more powerful than the archaic titles we hold onto so dearly.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that living life at this level of transcendance feels good. But more than that it naturally makes others feel good as well. And thus creates a seamless positive feedback loop of influence and impact.
The Final Word
I'm lucky that I stumbled across this fallacy when I was young, ignorant and naive to the way we are "told" the world works.
But with that the fact remains… Contrary to the titles and roles which are reserved for only “the most deserving” - the experienced "Grade 12ers", this kind of holistic intentional living I've described is accessible to every single one of us. There is no official start and no expiry to when we choose to live our lives beyond titles - you can start today, tomorrow, or never.
The irony of course, is that by living with the intention of showing up as our whole selves in every interaction we will inevitably end up pulling amazing communities and our dream roles right to our doorstep.
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