To the man in the midnight blue Impala:
I drove behind you last Friday for a mile in rush hour traffic. We were hardly moving, so I could see that you were talking with someone in the passenger seat. You were using American Sign Language. I was mesmerized.
I couldn’t decipher the details of your conversation but it didn’t matter. You reminded me of something important: skills long dormant, waiting to resurface. It’s been more than eight years since I taught a sign language class, but I wanted to get out of my car to say hello, to see how much I could remember. My hands tensed in readiness. And then the traffic started to move faster, you made a right turn, and I was home.
We all have skills, abilities, or relationships that we have forgotten or tossed aside. Maybe you have a talent for art or music, public speaking or design, language skills or athletic prowess that you have not exercised lately. Maybe you have lost touch with some friends who played a vital role in your life. Caught up in the busy-ness and business of life, we abandon some things to pursue others. This is natural and necessary. To be truly effective as leaders, we must optimize the talents that are most important for our current position or situation.
We find a niche, become known as an expert in this area, or the go-to guy for that. Maybe we have worked so broadly in a certain organization that we are adept at work in various departments. While it is important to exercise the skills that landed us in our current position, we may be under-utilizing some important resources. Why not take some time today to consider abilities or connections you might be neglecting?
Identifying interests, passions, or relationships you are not currently cultivating.
Considering skills related to those interests. For example, you may have an interest in relating to people from other cultures. The related skill could be an understanding of cultural differences and how to communicate with people from different backgrounds. Or it might be your proficiency in speaking another language.
Pinpointing situations in your current job in which your forgotten skills could be used. Explore the possibility of returning to an old friendship and how that could enhance your life or work. If you need to, talk to a friend or trusted colleague to brainstorm ideas. Or, if your interest and skills seem completely unrelated, plan to pursue them outside of work hours. Sometimes, finding fulfillment outside of work provides the creative spark you need to be more effective on the job.
Once you’ve returned to neglected interests, skills, or relationships, reflect on how incorporating them into your life and work has affected you. Hopefully, you have found something vital that you had been missing before. It is also possible that you have been reminded of why you let skills fall into disuse, or the relationship to fade.
I have proposed the idea of a summer sign language class for kids before and never followed through, despite my friends’ enthusiasm. Seeing the man in the Impala inspired me to make it happen. I need to dust off my books, update my lesson plans, put some dates on the calendar, and invite some friends. I can already picture a circle of children in my backyard, hands moving gracefully.
What dormant skills can you nurture? What friendships can you revitalize? Can you imagine yourself using forgotten gifts again? How will reintegrating these skills and relationships add value to your life as a leader?
This post was originally published at Mountain State University Leadertalk and is republished here with permission.