Dancing on the Bart

Moments in time that drive loyalty

If you are leading a team of people, regardless of where you are in the organization, you know that earning people’s respect and loyalty is everything. They will walk to the edge of the cliff with you if they believe. Sure, you can get them to buy into your vision and what it can do for their career. But if you truly want that unwavering dedication, then they need to also believe in you as a person.

I learned this lesson like most people — the hard way. I have been leading teams of varying sizes for over 15 years. I have made some great relationships and have had many employees follow me from company to company. I have mentored junior people to find their callings in their careers, set lofty goals, rallied people around crazy visions, rolled up my sleeves and gone to bat for people when no one else believed in them. But it wasn’t until someone told me about “the moment” in time they felt like they would follow me anywhere, that I understood what it really takes to be a great leader.

“I became truly loyal to you when I saw you dancing on the Bart in San Francisco.”

When I first heard this, I was shocked. First of all, I don’t even remember doing this — it was like an unconscious gesture that happened amongst the many things we did that day. But that wasn’t what really got me. It was that we had worked together for years before this moment occurred — every meeting we had had, every ideation session, every accomplishment we achieved together, and he didn’t feel truly loyal until this 60 seconds in time. So what was missing? And why of all things did something as silly as bopping to music on the subway change the dynamic?

As leaders we often think that to be respected, we need to show that we are competent and capable. We have it all together. We create the right vision, set the right goals, hire the right people, inspire and motivate. Because of this, most of our conversations center around business objectives, projects, and the career growth of our employees. Sure, we ask about their weekends and share stories about our kids, we host happy hours and take employees out to lunch, but do we let our hair down during any of that? Do we truly let them in to see the real us, flaws and all?

Okay— dancing is not a flaw, unless you are a really bad dancer, but it gave a glimpse into my quirky side, one that was reserved for nail polish & crazy hair parties with my 5 year old daughter. It was unexpected and gave him permission to be himself too. It kicked me off the pedestal in a good way — opened him up to have honest conversations where he not only asked what he could do better, but how he could help me do better.

Hearing this story about dancing on the Bart was a beautiful thing. I now have a new appreciation for what an “authentic leader” actually means. It is about showing you are only human afterall, so that they can see greatness within themselves as well.

As I left my last company, my entire team took me out for happy hour. We shared incredible stories about our favorite moments together, what we meant to one another, funny (and sometimes dangerous) things we did as we were growing up and the career challenges ahead. It was an amazing way to close a chapter and start a new one.

I am now on a journey to curate more stories like this from past employees, as well as other leaders around the country and will be putting these lessons into my leadership playbook. From all the conversations I have had so far, the biggest takeaway I can share is that there is no perfect leader — so stop trying and embrace who you are. After all, great leadership is made up of many many impactful moments, So beat to your own drum and dance in front of your team if the moment strikes.


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Originally published at medium.com on July 8, 2015.