I consider my late maternal grandparents Joseph and Pearl Parker, of whom I was raised in their rural Virginia home, generational leaders and role models. From managing the many feats involved in cultivating our family’s garden, tending to the rest of the territory, raising children and supporting their church activities, my grandparents’ ability to sustain energy and stay on course was tested. But they got it done and led the family anyway. Sometimes they needed additional tools, to enhance their physical as well as mental power, from external and internal sources. They kept inventory of a couple of each, imbedded in their character.
Some of these tools were acquired and sharpened from their life experiences, such as a stock of strong values, faith, determination and wisdom. From observing how they deployed these attributes, I learned many lessons on the importance of plugging into a reliable power source. Because there are times in our work, families or communities we will need this type of actionable force to withstand adversity, life’s obstacles, or whatever comes up against us. At those moments, a surge of inspiration is needed in order to keep going forward. Sometimes nothing can make me feel better or give me more power than to remember one of them saying, “You can get through this. God will make a way.”
My grandmother was a planner; rising daily at five a.m. to get started on the household work—cooking, stoking stoves, organizing to get the children off to school—while singing hymns as she was in action. My grandfather then used a couple of external power tools to support our landscape. One was his plow, which he brought out of his toolshed to break up the garden’s tough ground. Plowing was also thinking time for him. He could relax his muscles just a bit and focus his mind on the next project or problem. The other external tool my grandfather used was a gas fueled power saw, to cut down trees for wood to heat our house. Every once in a while he’d use his axe only, but recognized when it was time to conserve his strength and supplement with this saw. He also had to take care of this back-up tool, removing the blades to be sharpened, so the saw could cut through the roughest and rawest of trees.
I’ve discovered that it’s essential for leaders to have back up sources too, sharp and heartfelt, when our power goes out— to keep us until…
So what are you plugged into?
We can also identify this surge as an internal power system, a dashboard like tool that kicks in when we find ourselves lost or waning in our energy. From such causes as resource limitations, unmotivated followers, change, or lack of vision clarity, leaders can be thrown off course. Time to recharge!
From exercising a bit of self-awareness, we can journey within ourselves and often find the varied components of our power system. Another source for me springs forth from the personal constitution of my stock, a heritage based connector. My grandparents also made sure I understood who we were in the world as African Americans, by sharing historical stories of struggles and pressing through. They relied on the syncing of their wits and purpose of better days to guide them and encourage future generations.
Leaders understand the power of knowing their foundations. I have not forgotten the collective and individual cultural narratives of my beginnings. As I watched footage honoring the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, the intentional and determined movement of those who attended very much inspired me. Freedom summoned a power in those marchers to come from all over the country with beckoned direction, as courage and vision also became part of their internal power system.
These generational and community observations became part of my leadership core, sustaining me when I served in the army, corporate positions, and now consultant. As a leader there’ve been problems to plow through, skills to sharpen and situations to supplement in seeking my desired results so I’ve sought power provisions.
Then what can other leaders glean from these narratives about my grandparents’ actions? Here are four sharpened power tools that I rely on to get things done.
1) Make a right decision for the moment.
2) Have a plan geared towards your resources.
3) Inspire from observable action.
4) Understand your core foundation.
What are your leadership power sources?
Parts excerpted from my new book: Tools to Cultivate the Promised Land: Working Wisdom From My Grandparent’s Garden