I declined my first leadership opportunity
And in the process was humiliated in front of my entire class 🤦🏻♂️
I want to get right into this post because it’s a story I have never shared before. I think most people who know me think I was born trying to lead things, but that just wasn't the case.
More on that in a minute.
First, I wanted to share the cover for my next book, The Culture Turnaround. I planned this book throughout 2021, wrote the first draft in January of this year, and my team at Ripples Media and I have been working on the editing and publishing process for the last six months. (If you haven’t written a book before, the hard part comes after you finish the first draft.)
If you’ve check out my previous books, you’ll recognize the format of the cover below. The color scheme is based on Dragon Army’s brand, because most of the ideas in this book I brought to life while building that company.
And, for the first time, I have a co-author! I was thrilled to work on this book with Adam Albrecht (author of the incredible book, What Does Your Fortune Cookie Say?), who partnered with me to create a pretty fantastic culture at Engauge many years back. You’ll want to read The Culture Turnaround if for nothing else to read about Adam’s concept of “weness” 😜
The book should be on sale in mid-November, and I’ll be working on a pre-order system soon. Stay tuned!
By the way, if you or someone you know is interested in writing a book, let me know! The Ripples Media team is actively interviewing authors right now 👍🏼
That day in the third grade
I can remember it like it was yesterday. My third grade class had recently voted on class president, each of us putting a name in the hat and then passing it to the person next to us. Our teacher was at her desk at the front of the room, reviewing the submissions and tallying the votes. I was busy chatting with my friends in the back of the class, per usual.
By this point in my academic journey, I would have classified myself in one way: class clown. Not the kind that plays pranks or wears silly outfits. No, I was the sarcastic kid in the class. A young Chandler Bing in the making, if you will.
Other than getting me sent to the principal’s office from time to time (and even, if you can imagine it today, a spanking from the principal with his big wooden paddle with holes in it so it could move through the air faster—true story) and some chuckles from the rest of the kids in the class now and again, I thought I was fairly invisible.
Until the teacher called my name that day.
Jeffrey, can you come to the front of the class?
(Yes, I went by Jeffery in elementary school, and possibly through middle school. But at some point I felt I was a grown up boy and should be called Jeff.)
No stranger to being called to the front of the classroom—though confused a bit this time because I didn’t actually remember doing anything bad that day—I made my way up to her.
She had a confused look on her face and I swear I saw her double checking the paper in front of her as I stood there.
“Well, Jeffery, it would appear that the class has decided to make you their class president,” she said. I imagine were it another kid in the class, perhaps any other kid in the class, she would have said this with more excitement and pride in her voice. Instead, she sounded more resigned to the fact than anything else.
Me? I was dumbstruck. At first, I felt pride in the fact that I had been voted as the class president. Look at me, people liked me. But that feeling left quickly when I realized that I would likely have to stand up in front of the class and speak words. This might sound strange coming from the kid that loved to make jokes during class, but there’s a big difference from being in the back of the class and throwing out a one-liner, to standing up in front of the class with everyone looking at you.
That was simply not going to happen.
“Um, Mrs. Dragonpants,” I said in a whisper. (I don’t remember her name, actually. I only remember Mrs. Kay from back then, the world’s greatest first grade teacher.) “I don’t want to do it. Could you just pick whoever came in second place and make them the…”
I thought I was being obvious with Mrs. Dragonpants that I wanted this to be a covert operation, in which she would simply choose the runner-up and announce him or her as the winner, and none would be the wiser.
“Class,” she very loudly said, “Jeffery won class president and has declined, and so Linda Ripplesmaiden (I don’t remember her name either), as the runner-up, will now be your class president.”
I slowly turned to face the class, turning a brighter shade of red than the world had ever seen. Someone toward the back of the class raised their hand.
“What does declined mean, Mrs. Dragonpants?”
Great, we were going to learn a new vocabulary word that every kid in the third grade would associate with me. I could just imagine at the next spelling bee, a kid gets the word “decline”, and they ask to have it used in a sentence.
“One time Jeffrey was voted class president, but as you all know from school lore, he declined because he was too nervous.”
As Mrs. Dragonpants went on to explain what it means to win an election and then decline it, I slowly made the longest walk of my life back to my seat, head down in shame.
Whew, just reliving that experience makes me feel bad! But, rest assured, things worked out after that. I somehow found myself in leadership positions in almost everything I did thereafter, including founding and running businesses, chairing nonprofit boards, and writing three (soon to be four) books on the topic of leadership.
And yet, somewhat inexplicably, my leadership journey started with me being elected class president and declining (go ahead, try to use that word in the future without thinking of me 🤦🏻♂️).
It’s important that we don’t let our past define us. You are not your past; you are your present and most decidedly your future. Sure, we’re all going to stumble and make mistakes and do things we’ll regret, but it’s how we pick ourselves up and get back on the saddle that will define who we are.
I hope you’re happy,
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