“If you lift up the people around you, you lift up yourself as well” (Clark, 2015).
My colleague David Miller shared his copy of Move Your Bus with me this summer. He suggested it to me because it resonates with him, but he also thought it might complement my studies on leadership, particularly due to the connection between the takeaways of the text and ideas that I have discussed in this space, such as servant-leadership and authentic leadership. It’s a quick read, and I loved it. Clark’s approach to leadership hinges on the metaphor of the bus, and categorizes folks based on their ridership – the driver, runner, jogger, walker, and rider. He builds on the analogy, turning it into a fable that expands across each chapter of the book, centering his takeaways around the idea of the bus.
As I read this book, I wondered quite a bit about my own approach to leadership and where my students would “fit” on the bus. Clark provides practical how-to’s for working with each type of passenger – encouraging leaders to let runners run, to praise joggers for their efforts, to provide mentoring opportunities for walkers, and figure out how best to tackle collaborating with and incentivizing riders. I found his how-to’s to be genius; in my mind, they provide practical advice for emerging servant-leaders. In my talks on servant-leadership with students and with new professionals, I’ve found that they often have trouble understanding servant-leadership on an operational level. In theory, in an abstract sense, it clicks. But, how do I “serve the mission of the organization,” and “develop each individual member so that each can see their own potential?” What does that even mean? How do I apply the tenets of servant-leadership into the work that I do on our campus?
I think that Clark’s book is a great example of how we can begin to understand and apply servant-leadership, because he recognizes the fact that the passengers on the bus each have different talents, challenges, and needs. He talks about the innovative spirit and energy of the runners, but reminds us that because these folks are always starting something, they are prone to error or oversight. By providing practical advice on how to provide critique to runners without depleting them of their energy and enthusiasm, we can help make them more effective professionals. And, what about the joggers who think that they’re runners, but only tend to expend energy on a handful of specific projects each year? How can we help them to run, building off what they do well and making sure that they continue to serve the mission of our group to the best of their ability? By praising their efforts, appreciating them when they do “run,” and giving them opportunities to productively collaborate with the runners, we can develop the unique talents and abilities of the joggers.
As I read through the sections of this book that focused on runners and joggers, something clicked. The majority of the students that I work with are runners and joggers. They’re incredibly involved, enthusiastic, and want to find ways to deepen their involvement and engagement at the College. The joggers may be more committed to their specific student organizations, or their internships, or their co-curricular projects, but they find ways to shine throughout the year. The advice that Clark provides in this book gave me some great advice for figuring out how to approach working with runners and joggers, especially when they make mistakes. He talks a lot about walkers, too, and how we can help them to quicken their pace – if the desire is there. I think of our “emerging leaders” as joggers or walkers, and Clark’s points about encouragement, appreciation, and mentoring are key in helping to develop these students into stellar upperclassmen and future professionals.
I enjoyed Clark’s takeaway about walkers, too, because I think it beautifully illustrates the importance of non-positional leadership. Just like when we say that leadership isn’t about titles, leadership isn’t about doing big, world-changing tasks every day. Little things count, and they support the work of the whole.
“I think a lot of Riders and Walkers have a misconception that they cannot move up in the organization unless they make a huge sale or woo a big client. They think they have to do something enormous and that seems overwhelming so instead they do nothing. Don’t make that mistake. Turn your eye to the little details and find ways to step everything up a notch.”
Runners often spread themselves thin, because everything interests them and they want to find ways to deepen their involvement and make themselves better people and professionals at all times. They never stop. I see this with our students all the time; our “emerged” student leaders have their hands in everything, and they have trouble committing to an event, a meeting, or a deadline despite really wanting to contribute or attend. I love their energy, and wanted to figure out ways to remind them of their commitments and help them with prioritizing, without making them feel deflated.
So, runners at Birmingham-Southern, here’s my advice to you, in the words of Ron Clark. When we work together, whether it’s part of your student organization, or you have questions about experiential learning or worry you aren’t “prepared” enough or “good” enough for an internship opportunity, or a service project, or a leadership position:
“Dear Runners, it is okay to allow yourself to make a mistake. Give yourself permission to forgive yourself and move on. You can’t run with a mistake on your heart. Let it go. And, don’t be afraid to ask for help. We think we have to prove ourselves by having all the answers, doing things well, and independently, but we don’t.”
Please, keep these words in mind. You can make mistakes, but own up to them and move forward. You’ll forget about things, juggle multiple leadership positions, and want to be in two places at once. When you feel this way, ask for help. Let your support system here on campus know that you’ve got a lot on your plate, and give us the opportunity to assist you – whether that’s a professional or faculty member on this campus, it’s another member of your student organization, or it’s an advisor.
I don’t know what I was expecting when David loaned me his copy of Move Your Bus. A quick, good read? Another perspective? I wasn’t expecting an a-ha! moment like this, but it was one that I needed to experience this summer to get my office prepared for what’s to come this fall. What are the students like on your campus? Are they runners, joggers, walkers, or riders? How have you worked with them?
Originally posted at Leadership Development & Life in the Yellowhammer State.