Not all of my teaching takes place in a formal classroom. One of the delights of my job is to help create leadership learning experiences for students that take place outside of the classroom. This past weekend, 60+ students came together at Scottsville Retreat Center for Ignite, our student leadership retreat.
As we plan Ignite, we try to offer learning experiences around 3 different areas: developing in our faith as leaders, practical leadership skills, and foundational assumptions about leadership. So, for instance, this year we considered questions related to living out our calling and preparing spiritually for the tough days in leadership. And this year, for the first time, we explicitly discussed our foundational assumptions about leadership.
A couple of years ago, we sat down and wrote out 10 foundational assumptions about leadership which would guide the leadership development program at ETBU. When I teach in class, when I select a textbook, when I consider bringing in speakers, I think about these 10 foundational assumptions.
We all have foundational assumptions don’t we? These are the things we really believe, deep down, and that shape the decisions we make daily.
This year, we asked Dr. Dub to address several of our foundational assumptions during our Campfire & S’mores time at Ignite. And so, there gathered around the fire, we talked about 3 of those assumptions:
- Leadership Can Be Learned
- Leadership is Action, Not Position
- And, “There are No Ugly Cats!”
Well, that’s not our actual assumption, but I will forever hold the story of Dr. Dub’s grandmother telling him there are no ugly cats as a reminder of one of those deep truths of leadership. Dr. Dub told the story about a cat of questionable cuteness that wandered past his grandma’s porch one day. When he commented on its lack of attractive qualities (that is, he called it ugly), her response was, “There are no ugly cats!”
And the truth is, in leadership, “there are no ugly cats.” (Tweet This) Difficult ones, yes. Opinionated ones, absolutely. Cats of different colors, stripes, spots, and attitudes, no doubt. But there are no ugly cats. And when I take the time to sit back and really listen to the differences of opinion and different personalities of all the individuals I’ve had a chance to work with or even lead, I am amazed at the beauty of the differences that God creates in human beings. And they all have the opportunity to bring something to the table. Each person has something to offer, so long as I don’t deny them that opportunity by believing they are too ugly (or uneducated, or goofy, or traditional, or creative, etc).
Of course, in leadership it’s easier to lead people who all think like you do, work like you do, see things like you do. But, in the end, are you even leading these people? Or would you all have gone in the same direction anyway?
Yes, my life would be easier if everyone always saw things my way. But, because I really do believe that there are no ugly cats, I will choose to actively include people in the decision-making process who are quite different from me. So, thanks Dr. Dub for that reminder…and the mental image to keep it fresh in my mind.