I can remember our encounter like it was yesterday. He looked up at me timidly, afraid to look me in the eye. In a trembling voice he asked, "Spare any change, ma'am?" I responded, "I'm so sorry Sir. I would love to, but unfortunately I don't have any." Smiling he said, "that's ok your acknowledgement is payment enough." With tears in my eyes, I walked away somewhat humbled by the gift he had given me. I made a mental note "to always carry some change" just in case I would see him or other people like him, again.
During the Holiday Season, as we run from one place to another, we will pass people like this gentleman. Cold and hungry, they will persist in their request for change, from one person after another. Many will walk by, some will reach into their pockets and a precious few, will reach into their hearts. Those who fall into the latter category will be giving the gift of acknowledgement - that priceless gift that is wrapped up in kindness and tied with dignity.
We have many leadership lessons to learn from our homeless people, not the least of which is humility. Here are a few more worth sharing:
1. Be compassionate:
We must remember to not judge the homeless as "less than" or condemn them for being on the streets. There are stories upon stories of people who's lives were changed in an instant, by tragedy. People like the former executive of Shell Oil who's wife and daughters were killed in a car accident. Unable to cope with this terrible loss, he eventually lost everything and found himself on the street. He did not choose the street, his life circumstances placed him there.
2. Preserve their dignity:
Though we've all heard stories about people who choose to live on the streets, far too often mental illness them there. With current stats of 1 out of 4 people suffering from mental illness, it's not surprising that those without a support system end up being homeless. We must strive to do our very best as human beings, to preserve their dignity and to treat them with respect. Those who do will be doubly rewarded.
3. Remember, there are great teachers and leaders amongst them:
Closer to home, my Uncle Cliff was once an English teacher who taught at Forest Hill Collegiate and Upper Canada College in Toronto. After a series of difficult life circumstances, severe mental illness and hard times, he ended up on the street. He went on to create Poetry Canada Review, a newspaper of the heart reporting on what really matters. It was also the first newspaper where Canadian poets could post and share their work. He also published three poetry books and won several international awards. Sometimes people must hit rock bottom before their gifts are discovered.
And so as we move forward with our gift giving, let's remember to have an open and humble heart. Let's do our best to take the time to acknowledge those less fortunate than ourselves. Let's strive to BE the change and honour our fellow human beings. And finally, let's always remember that every one is somebody's child.
If we do, we will lift their spirits and ours, not only at Christmas, but always. Fellow leaders amongst us.
Lead. Make a difference. Leave a legacy.
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Kimberley is an inspirational speaker, seminar leader and executive coach. She inspires people to become genuine leaders and in turn, the kind of person others are inspired to emulate.