Want to know a major secret of leadership? It’s one Drew Dudley accidentally learned from James Maskalyk, a young physician with Doctors Without Borders who in 2007 spent six months treating people wounded in the civil war in Sudan. (Maskalyk blogged daily about his experience, then turned it into a book.)
In his keynote speech at ASHA’s 2016 Annual Convention in Philadelphia, Dudley recounted his revelatory conversation with Maskalyk, who he admits having a bit of a crush on: “I asked him, ‘You worked 20 hour days in a place where the temperature reaches 110 degrees before 8 a.m. You were surrounded by death, often by things you could control with a single pill back here… And at the end of the day, you didn’t go home. You sat down and you wrote about it. Why?’”
Maskalyk’s response profoundly shaped Dudley’s views of leadership, a topic Dudley has made his life’s work and that is the basis of this year’s convention with its theme of “Everyday leadership. Leadership every day.” Maskalyk responded, “Drew, the story is the basic unit of human understanding, and we will never understand each other and we will never understand ourselves, if we do not tell our stories every chance we get.”
Dudley, in his 15 years working in leadership development, has learned that Maskalyk is exactly right.
“The problem,” Dudley told a packed convention hall, “is so many people are either unwilling or unable to tell their stories. We do not acknowledge the importance of our stories. We do not acknowledge the importance of our leadership. And we do not acknowledge the leadership that exists in us every day.”
This year’s everyday leadership convention theme aims to change that perception, as noted by ASHA President Jaynee Handelsman and convention co-chairs Tucker Gleason and Michael Flahive in their opening remarks. Over the next two and a half days, said Handelsman, “we’re here to explore how each of us can move forward boldly as everyday leaders, to advance ourselves and our professions by making a real difference in people’s lives.”
Handelsman urged attendees—there are a record-breaking 15,000 plus of them this year—to conquer their fears, step out of their comfort zones, work toward their visions and say, “Yes we can!” And in the view of keynoter Dudley, attendees overlook how much they are already leaders in what they do for a living. He polled the audience to see how many of them feel comfortable calling themselves leaders. About 50 percent raised their hands, which he said is typical for audiences.
Why do so many not see themselves as leaders? Because we tend to turn leadership into something bigger than ourselves, associating it with money, power and massively changing the world, said Dudley. We often let moments of our own and others’ leadership pass us by and don’t give ourselves and others credit for them, he said.
Instead, Dudley said, we need to acknowledge these contributions: “Or else we risk pulling leadership out of our communities, out of our organization, out of our lives and off this planet… and we need it,” he said. “When we embrace the idea that leadership comes from everywhere, we also embrace the idea that leadership comes from us every day, and we pay more attention to it.”
Another mistake we tend to make, said Dudley, is thinking leadership moments are exceptional. Instead, he said, they’re about how we choose to interact with others every day. He told the audience of audiologists and speech-language pathologists that the work they do every day shows that they are leaders.
“You give people every day the tools and the power and inspiration to believe that their voice matters, that they should use it—and by doing that you help people tell their stories. And in doing that, you are all leaders. There’s no question you are leaders,” said Dudley. “And yet the hands don’t go up. Maybe it’s humility: ‘It’s just my job sir.’
“Look, humility is not about ignoring what makes you awesome. Humility is about recognizing that what makes you awesome doesn’t make you better than other people. So embrace it. You are awesome. And you are leaders.”