Leadership is my calling. That’s what Mrs. Levi told me when I was about four years old. Mrs. Levi was a neighbor who lived in the same apartment building as us in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Most people don’t remember much from when they were four years old, but I do remember things that people said or did that were impactful. I remember Mrs. Levi as the kindly, gray-haired, stoop shouldered, grandmotherly neighbor who regularly brought my family home-made Gefilte fish and matzo ball soup. Mom crocheted gifts for her to thank her for her kindness. I remember one evening she brought over a jar of her freshly made fish. I was walking around the house barefooted and when she looked at my feet, her eyes opened wide and she said, with a bit of wonder in her voice, “You are a natural-born leader. Your second toe is longer than your big toe and that means leadership.” At that young age, I remember smiling and just taking in what she said. I don’t remember responding, but if I did say something, it was probably something silly.
Now I don’t know if there’s any correlation between the length of our second toe and leadership but I do know that Mrs. Levi’s proclamation that evening stuck with me. It’s something I’ve never forgotten. And as life has turned out, leadership is my calling. I am passionate about leadership development and believe that anyone can learn the skills required to become an effective leader. Doing so however requires an embarkation upon a life-long journey. It’s a journey that is as personal and individual to each of us as is the color of our hair or eyes. It’s a journey filled with hills and valleys. Sometimes the going is smooth. Sometimes, we stumble and fall.
The goal of the journey is to achieve a walk of authentic leadership. When I speak on this topic, I am often asked, “What is ‘authentic’ leadership?” Two of the definitions that we find in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Eleventh Edition) for authentic are “not false or imitation” and “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” Authenticity in leadership is the integration of persona and character. Persona is our outward manifestation. It includes our appearance, manners, verbal ability, revealed competence and titles. Character is our essence. It is the core of who we are. Essence is about our purpose, values, beliefs and visions. When persona and character integrate so as to express our own true personality, spirit or character, this is integrity or authenticity. The journey to authentic leadership is a path finding mission to discover our essence and manifest it through our persona.