Yesterday the Prime Minister of Canada (and sundry other dignitaries) paid a visit to a small town on the South Shore of Nova Scotia.
The occasion? An announcement of a large federal investment in a local manufacturing facility – an investment that will have positive economic ripples affecting every nearby business and family for years to come (in an area that has historically had an over reliance on tourism).
Over the course of the few hours the PM et al were there they made a point of patronizing several local businesses and taking time to chat and get photos with many local residents as well as with the staff in these small, independently owned operations.
For most it was a thrilling day, and staff and customers alike seemed to feel pretty special when the PM stopped to shake hands and visit. Afterwards several of those businesses posted the photos to their social media accounts. Leading, sadly and predictably, to a barrage of negativity in the comments.
Which is where, to me, this day got really interesting.
Leading from the Front
The mayor of this small town works hard to balance being available and willing to listen with setting a tone of tolerance, compassion and thoughtfulness in the community, and in particular on any of the public social media pages. In a community where many struggle this is a very difficult job, and from my vantage point I think he does very well.
This morning – early – he posted on his own “Mayor” Facebook account. He led with “Sorry, folks, but it looks like it’s time for Dad mode again.”
He expressed his disappointment at the fact that disrespectful and even hurtful comments were posted – directed not at the PM, oddly, but at the local businesses who hosted the visitors.
He went on to focus on the hope that as a community everyone would be good hosts to any and all visitors, and asked that people appreciate the fact that any time the local businesses get to showcase their hard work it’s a good thing – no matter the political stripe of the audience.
His primary message: “Words matter! Kindness matters and both are a reflection of our character.” And that you don’t need to agree with the government to be a positive, supportive member of your local community.
Why should we pay attention to the mayor of a small town?
This small-town mayor is leading by example, and asking the members of his community to follow suit. Here are some of the lessons from this example:
- You can be a thoughtful, compassionate and values-based leader in any arena, no matter its size and scale.
- You can hold high aspirations even if it seems that your circle of influence might be small.
- You can lead by example when people disagree with you, if you express your views with grace and integrity (and you can ALWAYS choose to express your views with grace and integrity).
- You can highlight the win for the whole in the face of a small number of individuals who try to derail the moment.
- And you can be compassionate while inviting those who are hurting into a view focused on greater good.
We work with many leaders who struggle with decisions and actions at the senior most levels in their organizations. What we work to encourage is a focus on who these individuals are “being” in their own leadership role and what their impact is on those who look to them as role models. Yes, exercise influence where you can – and recognize that your influence downward and sideways is at least as, if not more important, than any disagreement you might have upwards.
Everyone is a leader in some realm. These days it seems harder than ever to consistently show up as one, let alone a values-based and compassionate one, but the positive ripples are meaningful if we all make the effort.
For a resource on both the “why” and the “how” of compassionate leadership I recommend “Compassionate Leadership: How to do Hard Things in a Human Way” by Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter.