Showing up, sharing the lead

It is beautiful to watch reciprocity in all its forms.


I recently read a scientific study about strapping little GPS back packs to 14 birds for the duration of a flight to find out which one was taking the lead in the flock. Contrary to the commonly held selfish gene theory, where the largest and strongest compete for the leadership job, it was found that these birds actually share the role quite evenly. Within their formations, they pair up and take turns sharing the hard work of sticking their necks out and then the relative respite of the slipstream when following. It is an interesting read and makes me consider how my leadership journey is progressing.


Now 8 weeks in a wheelchair and recently graduating to about an hour a day on crutches I’ve relied on the slipstream of a few and I’ve been disappointed at the absence and subsequent leaving of some. These big events really do sort the chaff from the hay and I’m dealing with the learning of that reality. It hurts some days. I have lost mobility but not my strong mindset. I have diminished capability in some areas but increased empathy in so many others. I’ve been questioning reciprocity and the nature of this mutually beneficial act.


Reciprocity is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit.


I have lived my life so far with a keen sense of giving and at times over-offering support. Pouring into full cups spills runoff into the saucers and that’s a messy clean up. I realise I can only pour from my own lived experience and am always learning layers of empathy that create new opportunities to support others. Sometimes I get it right and fill my cup first, other times I really make a mess. Such is the process of becoming wise. At this stage though, rather than pouring, I feel like I’m tapping teaspoon to cup rim and asking for milk, sugar and biscuits to get me through.


Honestly it is with a heavy heart at times, that I try to place myself in other people’s shoes and reflect upon why they are leaving. Especially in my time of high need. I’ve had a crash course in asking the right questions and I am getting clearer in my requests. Why is this ask too much for them at their stage of life? “Why” questions are a lovely start to reflection but I tend not stay too long without jumping to the more productive “How” questions. I have the wisdom to know that I can only work on me… So how am I reacting? I know I am growing and changing. People who have known me for the endlessly offering, giving, smiling, listening soul are now being confronted with a very real, needy, hurting and sometimes demanding person who is literally in the throes of working out how to do the next step. For some people this is too much to sit with my flipside – understandable. Gee sometimes it’s difficult to sit with myself, but I am. It’s true that fair-weather friends are stepping out my revolving support door but it is equally true that others are stepping in and up in different ways. This teaches me about support and what people can reasonably offer. It is a cycle. It is normal.


In the temporary void after some friends have stepped away, is an opportunity to assess how much I have given out to others and how much I have sacrificed by not giving to myself. Sipping this tough reality burns a bit. Maya Angelou said “I don’t trust people who don’t love themselves and tell me, ‘I love you.’ … There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.” Note to self – I’d better pack a cardigan because I’ve been known to strip down and get chilly. Cold hands warm heart is not going to cut it anymore.


Another reflection is that I’ve never really asked people to show up in the first place. Some business and personal relationships I have been in for a while have been built on imbalanced foundations. I’ve poured smooth concrete for others to walk on and left a half a square metre in the corner for myself. It strikes me hard that I’ve confused giving away too much of myself with being capable and strong. How can I hold people to account if I didn’t ask for what I needed? The point now is that I can’t keep doing that. It’s obvious my needs are high and plainly I need other people to give to me. I cannot continue to fly up the front, stretching my neck and relentlessly tiring myself with others in my slipstream. It’s dangerous and not sustainable and reduces everyone’s chances of reaching their destination fit and well. I simply can’t carry them any longer and have to learn to the art of reciprocity.


The standard and style of accountability by which I hold myself is now a strategy and an essential for my “life tribe” moving forward. My life tribe includes my children, family, friends, beloveds, colleagues, damn it… it includes leaders and society as a whole. I hold you to the same account because I have been in the lead and it’s now my turn to flow in the slipstream to receive the benefit. There is a natural cycle, an ebb precedes a flow. That’s what reciprocity is about. If we all take small consistent turns, we can all uplift. Quite opposite to being selfish, reciprocity is grounded in equality, deep self-loving and is an act of building supportive relationships that enhance supportive communities.


Of course, not all my requests can or will be met but I am secure in the knowledge that different people will partner and swirl in and out of my flock at times. To those who are flying closely ahead or behind I feel your strength and I thank you so much. To those who are flying their own course, we still share the same beautiful sky and I truly thank you for the perspective.


So, my leap and lesson this fortnight has been to keep myself and my own nest warm before I can offer to others. How can I truly love and lead anyone without deeply loving and leading myself? I’m not talking distracting and superficial love. Not that shallow love that lights up an app screen or sits pulling on me from a retail or pantry shelf but the deep and true love that finds me sitting still in my own self-respecting heart. It has been beating for so many others for so long and now needs to pump and circulate for my own benefit first. It is uncomfortable to write this blog and I do fear that familiar friends will walk out the door though I have to trust that in doing so I am acknowledging and powering the renovation of my solid loving foundations and inviting solid loving people to reciprocate in a natural balance of equal leadership and followership.


Leadership is a relationship that requires self-respect, clear requests, boundaries, reciprocity and accountability. In my deeper appreciation of this, it is difficult to balance the weight of reciprocity but I’m following along and giving it my honest best.


See you tomorrow at WOW Festival at the powerhouse for Journaling Courage and discovering that you are the leader you have been searching for.