How Everyday Leaders Cross the Boundary


I wrote last week about the passing of my friend Colin Hubbell and was reminded of his “best self” everyday leadership as I stood at the foot of the Mackinac Bridge in the Upper Peninsula, just before sunrise yesterday.  I was talking with two of the women who had been selected to run the 4-1/2 mile span of the Bridge as “ambassadors of fitness.”  These 35-ish women had each lost 100 to 150 pounds.  “How did you decide to do it?” I asked.  “What happened that you totally turned things around?”  They told me.

One woman had weighed over 300 pounds, though I could hardly believe it as she looked now to be about 5’2” and perhaps 130 pounds. She told me that people were afraid to say anything; even her doctor said nothing to her.  But a new doctor told her she was overweight and needed to do something about it.  She was initially embarrassed and a little angry.  But she realized the doctor was trying to help, and used the provocation to start a “medical weight loss” program, and she systematically shed the weight.  She now loves running, which she hated at the outset.  The other woman said that she had been in denial about how she had gotten to weigh well over 200 pounds.  She was running a race, totally struggling to finish, and a much older woman passed her.  It got to her.  After the race she happened to see the same woman, and the woman flat out told her (paraphrasing here): “You should really take care of yourself.  You’re overweight and you’re going to cause yourself health problems.”  

Needless to say, she also was affronted, but she got over it quickly and actually asked the woman to help her.  Sure enough the older woman took her under her wing, helped her discover running – she had been athletic back in school – and supported her as she changed her lifestyle. “I knew what I needed to do about my diet,” she told me, “I just had to commit to doing it.”  

The stories reminded me of Colin.  At the funeral home, I had told Colin’s wife Tricia about how touched and grateful Jennifer had been when Colin called her out of the blue one day – the day Jennifer had been criticized on the front page of one of the Detroit dailies.  Colin had said, “You’re being attacked from the outside, and I’m being attacked by cancer on the inside.  God gave us this for a reason.  We have to deal with this pain to help others deal with their pain.”  Jennifer was touched by his proactivity and his faith and courage.  When I recounted this story to Tricia, she thanked me and sweetly said, “Colin never did get the boundary thing.”

Everyday leaders don’t.  Mind you, overweight people don’t want every stranger crossing the invisible boundaries of decorum to holler at them to go on a diet.  And believe me, governors occasionally wish there were a semblance of a boundary when, for example, people hang out of their cars on the Mackinac Bridge and break the peace of a magnificent sunrise and a spirited 4 mile run by crying out, “Governor, fire Kwame.”   Yes, the older woman crossed the boundary, and told her truth, but screaming truth to power – as poetic as it sounds – is sometimes just too easy.  Colin and the old woman reached out not just with truth, but with compassion, too, and with action of their own.  They are heroic everyday leaders, not just because they crossed the boundaries of decorum and authority, but because they backed up their words with heart and action.

Everyday leaders cross boundaries with courage and compassion to

Lead with their best self,