Blue Backpack Leadership
Now and then, I come across stories or images that connect to a common theme. When it happens so impactfully to me in such a short period, as it did recently, I often take it as a sign that I should do my part to extend its reach. In this case, the theme came from a LinkedIn post, an audiobook, and a perspective of planet earth from outer space. It’s about being kind to one another – so simple yet underappreciated for its power and value to good leadership.
Two Little Boys
As I was perusing LinkedIn the other day, I was struck by a post that included an image of two little boys. The student with the green lunchbox is a child with special needs. Apparently, he was so terrified to go to school that he started to cry. The child with the blue backpack comforted his classmate by approaching him and holding his hand. How wonderful.
Leadership isn’t always about leading large organizations and making a global difference. Instead, it’s about understanding that the world comprises billions of people and that each of us has the capacity to make a difference in at least one person’s life. All we need to do is step up and be kind. When doing so, we set an example by employing our brand of blue backpack leadership.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Magic Johnson
Within a day of seeing the post on LinkedIn, I enjoyed a morning run listening to the audiobook, When The Game Was Ours by Larry Bird, Earvin Magic Johnson, and Jackie MacMullan. While the book focuses primarily on the special relationship between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, it was a story about Magic and Kareem Abdul Jabbar that caught my attention that day. To set up this anecdote, NBA players would frequently turn to Magic for business advice, as Magic has been as successful an entrepreneur as he was a player.
When Kareem asked Magic about what it takes to achieve such business success, Magic replied that you have to be nice to people. You have to be on all the time. Kareem, known for his often-surly demeanor off the court, suggested that being that way to everyone all the time would be extremely difficult for him. Magic assured him it was the only way.
Magic proceeded to tell this story. During Magic’s rookie season, a young boy and his dad, waiting outside the arena, asked Kareem if he would take a picture with them. Kareem brushed them off, leaving the boy crushed at being so summarily dismissed by his basketball idol. Magic felt so badly that he walked up to father and son and said, ‘I’ll take a picture with you.”
The boy cherished the photo and never forgot the kindness Magic showed him and his dad. Years later, when Magic was looking for investors for his latest venture, a CEO approached him and said, “You probably don’t remember me, do you?” It turns out that the boy standing with his father outside the arena grew up to become a CEO. The CEO still had the photo, and Magic had a new investor.
A View from Space
On the page from A Beautiful World, How Astronauts Change After Seeing Earth from Space, here’s how they described it: “The Overview Effect is a cognitive shift that affects some astronauts when they see the earth from space. Many say they no longer identify with a specific nationality or culture after seeing earth from outer space, instead they see themselves, and all citizens on earth, as one people, living on one world.
The Overview Effect has been documented by numerous astronauts and cosmonauts, who describe seeing the earth from in space first-hand like seeing ‘a tiny, fragile ball of life hanging in the void, shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere.’
“From space, astronauts cannot see physical borderlines or national boundaries, all evidence of division and separateness vanishes. The conflicts that divide countries, cultures and people become less important, and the need to create a peaceful united planetary society, which works together to protect this “pale blue dot,” becomes critical.”
Most of us will never experience such a moment from space. We can, however, take time to look at an image of this fragile planet of ours, recognize how little time we have to enjoy it, and embrace why being kind to one another is so essential to our existence.
Reflection and Action
As leaders in all walks of life, I hope these three examples encourage some reflection. Have I always been kind to everyone in my life whenever I had the chance? Sadly, no. I suspect that many of you reading this article might reach the same conclusion. We can’t change the past, but we can embrace a renewed commitment to kindness in the future. With blue backpack leadership as our inspiration, let’s make a positive difference in the lives of the people closest to us for as long as we remain stewards of this amazing planet we all call home.
Written by Leo Bottary.
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