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  • Writer's pictureCora Lonning

Self-Leadership on Gopher Valley

It is those that lead themselves the best that are naturally followed by others; and require the least amount of management by others.

1979. Gopher Valley Rd., Sheridan, Oregon.

“Cora, run to town and get me a pack of cigarettes.” “I can’t. I can’t drive. I can’t do it. No.” “You can do it. You will do it. Go. Now.”

At 16, having had my license for 3 months, I totaled my father’s car and put myself in the hospital. By the time I got out of the hospital and was up and walking around the motto of “I am never going to drive again” went from being a casual comment to a lifelong commitment.

My father’s leadership style focused more on how I was self-managing than on how he was leading me.

Recognizing I was setting myself up by creating a life barrier-literally and figuratively- he had made the parental and leadership decision it was time for me… to deal with me.

After my first attempt I came back in the house.“

I tried Dad. I started my bug but I am not strong enough to get it in reverse. I can’t do it.” “You can do it. You ARE strong enough. Think it through. If one angle hurts, come from another. You can and will do this. Its noon. The store closes at 5. There will be a pack of smokes sitting on this table no later than 5:30.”

Clear expectations. Reiterating I had all the knowledge and resources needed to accomplish the task. No enabling, simple support.

I sat in that Volkswagen Bug for 2 hours. Crying, cursing, trying, kicking, and finally, exhausted, thinking.

Eventually tired of my crying and all the drama-I was boring myself with aaaaallllllll the excuses- and deciding I did not like the person I was being, I simply started the car, put it in reverse, and left.

Amazing what we can do once we decide we can. Arriving at this conclusion in my mind created a whole different outlook and attitude. I had made up my mind I was being ridiculous. Who in the world does not drive? You have to drive! People drive everyday and they do not get hurt. I am fine! In this state of mind I was able to drive my car to town, achieve my assigned task, stop by and visit a friend, and make it home before my deadline.

I did not need to go to a training class or have my hand held or have someone take me through it first. What I needed was to learn how to deal with me; and to lead myself to where I needed to be.

I still remember driving back up the valley, past the accident site that had been a source of angst in prior days. I felt so FREE driving by this day, in my own car, on my own accord. I literally felt my confidence surging back into my damaged nerves and muscles.

I was my own person in charge of my own life! Yes, I CAN do this!

For those of you wondering, “how could she buy cigs at 16?” In a small town all we needed was a note from our parents, which my father had written on his yellow legal pad. At the small local store they knew who was who, who belonged to whom, and who smoked what.

So yes, with my note in 1979 I could purchase his smokes…!When I got home I placed his smokes-on top of the other 3 packs he just happened to find while I was gone-his change, and his note on the table. On the note I had written: Mission Accomplished.

THIS is what self management allows for us to experience! If others insist on taking away our learning opportunities, and taking responsibility for when we fail, does that mean they also get responsibility for when we succeed?

Oh….but I was not done yet!

Six months later a similar conversation arises. My parents are going out of town for the weekend, leaving me my father’s car to drive while they are gone. I no longer had the bug as I had to sell it to pay for the insurance deductible. Life is about accountability and responsibility! This means the only car I will have to drive is my father’s car. My anxiety skyrockets. I go to my mother and tell her they cannot leave town. Something is wrong with me. My neck hurts, my vision is off, and I am dizzy. I think my nerves are tingling. She MUST take me to the doctor. They cannot leave!

I find myself in another father -daughter conversation…

“Cora, you are fine. We are leaving for the week. You WILL drive my car while we are gone, and I WILL be checking the odometer. You WILL move forward with your life.” “Dad, I am NOT ok. Something is wrong with me. Very wrong. I need to go to the doctor this week.” “Were you ok last week?”

“Yes, but that was last week.” “Cora, here are the facts. You were in a car accident. You were paralyzed. Now you are not. Now, you are fine. You were quite traumatized. Now it is time to move forward. You had life goals. The accident changed those goals. However, you have not made new goals. As your father, I will NOT be a part of you letting a car accident define you and be your life story. YOU must move forward and beyond this. You must decide it is only a chapter, not the whole story."

“Similar circumstances are triggering your emotions, and you are manifesting those into physical ailments. You are fine. You will face these emotional triggers and traumas on your own, while we are away, and you will drive my car. I am asking you, DO NOT let this define the rest of your life.”

Often times the concept of life gifts comes up. I would say some of the greatest gifts bestowed upon me by my father were in the form of his willingness to let me learn. He overrode the desire to fix things for me, or to take my pain or fears away. Instead, he placed a high value on my learning and on my self-development. In fact, he placed a higher regard on my learning than on his own self satisfaction or personal needs.

Isn’t this really what leadership is about as well?

Although a very emotionally and physically painful week for me, I made it through. By the time my parents arrived home the following weekend I had managed to drive my father’s car to and from school all week. Not that it was that bad, since he had replaced the car I had wrecked with a Mazda RX7! By the end of the week I had finally relaxed and was enjoying getting to drive his car. My physical ailments went the wayside, and I started to think about what the future held for me.

I learned some very important lessons throughout this whole event. Most importantly, I was allowed to learn and practice the art of managing and leading self. I learned about listening and responding to my internal self; and the power of my thoughts.

Thank you Dad for this important-and powerful-life skill.

As a Learning Professional, I am hard pressed to get through the day without reading or hearing about “Leadership Development.” Leadership often referenced on the context of “how do you lead, treat, communicate, or engage others?

What I know for sure is that leadership is seldom about others. Most often is about self. How do I show up for others? How do I role model what I value, and what I am asking others to value through my choices? How do I communicate what I believe? If others are not following me or engaged in what I am asking them to do, have I looked in the mirror to ask why? Have I asked the right questions; “what about me is creating issues for others?”

Or, “What about my actions are not creating buy in from others?”

When tasked with leading others, am I focused on teaching them what I want them to know and getting them to do what I want them to do? Or, am I focused on contributing to their growth as individuals on their path to become problem solving, decision-making high performers that self-lead? Am I committed to what they have to teach me about me?

As a Learning Professional having worked with so many inspiring leaders throughout the years, I am plagued with the question, “if leadership is the Achilles heel for so many organizations, and a multi-billion dollar money maker for the training industry, why are we not focused on Self Leadership?

It is those that lead themselves the best that are naturally followed by others; and require the least amount of management by others.

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