“You must be before you can give.” – Elie Wiesel, commencement speech, Washington University at St Louis, 2011
Spring and early summer is a season of graduations, of new beginnings, of young people hearing inspiring words from society’s leaders. I was in attendance at just such a gathering this May and had the privilege of listening to a convocation speech from Elie Wiesel. He shared some stories from his lifelong quest to defend those unable to defend themselves, his life of giving of himself through his writing and his notoriety. And, he shared an observation that “you must be before you can give.”
In the world of organizational leadership, this is also true and rarely taught or acknowledged. When we are so busy with the doing of “business,” whether it is non-profit, academic or corporate, we can lose the very thing we need to lead with excellence: ourselves. We lose who we are, what we truly believe in, what we are most passionate about. As a result, we are susceptible to being pulled along with someone else’s idea, or simply something that is neutral, good enough but not innovative or brilliant.
And over time, this failure to “be” becomes draining for a leader. We know something is missing but we may not know what it is. We need to cultivate our ability to be. Our ability to be fully present and to see and understand the core principles that make us who we really are, we need to remember that this capacity to ‘be’ drives us to leadership excellence. And we need to dedicate the time needed to cultivate this capacity.
When we know how to be, our capacity to bring all of who we are, our passion, our beliefs, our creativity, our compassion and our clarity, expands our ability to give. And this giving nature is what separates the good leaders from the great leaders.
Can you find a few moments today to just be — perhaps sitting at your desk and practicing with the breath? Just noticing the sensations without any need to change anything about what is here, right now, in this moment…. In the stillness, can you just be for a few moments?