A few days ago I happened to notice on Facebook it was our neighbor’s 65th birthday. And it was a snow day. This clearly called for fresh-baked cookies, a handmade card by my daughter and an adventure through the neighborhood to our beloved neighbor’s home.
Our two kids and I packed up our warm cookies with a Happy Birthday napkin and a card. We put on our boots, jackets and still wet hats from snow earlier in the day. Like newly released prisoners, we ventured out into the thick wet snow and away from the home we’ve been in for five straight days with no school or a limited school day. We were free! We felt giddy with the joy of kindness simply for the sake of being kind.
The kids fell into step behind me as we trudged through tracks left by a car about thirty minutes earlier. We were mostly quiet as the snow silenced the world around us.
Then I turned to the right. Kids giggled behind me and followed along. Then I veered to the left. More giggling and more following. I felt the thrill of influence as my sharp turns invited laughter, surprise and joy.
All the sudden, I veered so far right that I looped around in a circle, crossed our old pathway and continued forward in a new direction. Giggles became squeals.
We fell into a straight line once again but this time my followers became the leaders. They curved left, then right, then left again. They criss-crossed paths in the snow while I slowed and watched them.
The thought occurred to me: We need more leaders who love the winding path.
My followers were prepared to follow me wherever I took them. Well, within reason. I am, after all, their mom. There was a potential melt down or tantrum possible at any moment along our route. But mostly, they would follow me. I could have easily stayed on the straight and narrow. I could have chosen the most direct and efficient route to get from point A to point B. Our house straight to Kathy’s home. It would have certainly got us home faster so I could finish the novel I had spent six hours reading that day.
But I didn’t. I chose the more curious, the unpredictable and the more joyful route. But that wasn’t enough.
I watched them choose it too.
They chose the winding path after seeing someone show them it was possible.
Our world needs more leaders who don’t always go for the most productive and efficient path. We need more leaders who want to go somewhere beautiful with joy, fun and curiosity. Those are the people I want to follow. About ten minutes later, we arrived at our neighbor’s door. She must have seen us coming. Or heard us. (I had given her a heads up message that we might stop by). As she oohed and ahhed over the warm cookies and enjoyed one, she exclaimed, “I have something for you!” She pulled out an old rickety wooden sled and handed it over. “It came with the house. And now it’s yours!”
The kids eyes bugged out, they shrieked. “Our first sled!” Which is an atrocity for two kids born in Alaska. But yes, this was their first official sled. I pulled them all the way home on it. Well, kind of.
One other thought: When the kids took off on their own path that made no efficient sense whatsoever, I could have grumbled, reminded them of the correct path and made them go in my footsteps. But I didn’t. I found far more joy in realizing they had seen my curiosity and joy and now they were finding their own.
We need more leaders who show others what’s possible and then take a step back and see what they can do. A wise mentor taught me a long time ago, “great leadership is making space for others to lead.”
Next time you find yourself forging your own path, I encourage you to pick the path where your curiosity and joy get to play. Take others with you. Then see where they lead you.
Maybe we’ll all get somewhere more beautiful in the end.