So earlier this week I had the great joy of giving a talk about bravery at the North Texas Workforce Solutions annual awards luncheon (Really, if you don’t know what your local Workforce Board is up to, you really should familiarize yourself with their work. They’re changing lives.)
After my talk, I hailed a Lyft and this perky young woman (who normally works in healthcare – that’s two drivers in one trip I met who work in healthcare) picked me up for my half-hour journey back to the airport. She had epic taste in music! We were rockin’ out to 1970-80’s R & B—Donna Summer, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie—it was awesome! I had such a good day and the music was so uplifting that I couldn’t help but hum along quietly in the back seat. Which started her humming along in the front seat.
Then Gladys Knight started singing “Midnight Train to Georgia.” How can anyone sit quietly when Gladys Knight sings that song? I think it’s physically impossible. So, of course, I started singing quietly along with her from the backseat. Which started Patrice, my driver to sing along too. Within seconds we were belting out “Midnight Train” on the freeway, me, Patrice and Gladys, I’m sure we were a sight!
Just thinking about it gives me the giggles. How could I have let myself sing in the back of a Lyft? How silly! How strange! How embarrassing! Normally I would have resisted the urge. I would have controlled myself. I would have held back. Yet in that moment I felt nothing but joy. Pure joy. And freedom. Joy and freedom. Joy and freedom that I would have never experienced had I maintained proper Lyft decorum and sat quietly in the backseat as social norms would recommend.
Now, please don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you start singing at the top of your lungs while waiting in line at the post office, or on your next flight (although wouldn’t that be a fun thing to witness?!) as you might end up in a padded room somewhere with your loved ones deeply concerned. But I want you to recognize how powerful you are.
Clearly, Patrice, my driver, was more than ready for our duet. She had been bopping her head to the beat and tapping out the rhythm on the steering wheel 5 miles back when Lionel Richie was singing “My Love.” I bet Patrice sings at the top of her lungs when customers aren’t in her car. Her head bopping started my head bopping. My humming started her humming. We gave each other permission to remove the mask and constraints that we normally put on ourselves and experience the joy and freedom that come from losing yourself in the music and being fully human.
We get to do that for each other.
There is not a person on this planet that doesn’t want to feel the joy and freedom of being fully themselves. We walk around life masked and protected hungering to be seen, but it doesn’t feel safe to show our true selves, so we hold back. The best we have to give—our full engagement—lies behind those masks and that armor. If we need the people in our lives to be and bring their best—our employees, our clients, our colleagues, our kids, our service providers, our partners, our friends, our neighbors—then we need to be willing to take down our masks to make it safe for them to do the same.
Which means, as leaders, we need to risk going first.
We get to make it safe for each other to be our true selves. Is there no greater privilege or responsibility? We get to do this at home, at school, at work, in life or in a Lyft.
(cue: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell:
Here’s to you, brave leaders, and the difference you make!