I wanted to just start by asking everyone a question: How many of you are completely comfortable with calling yourselves a leader? I've asked that question all across the country, and everywhere I ask it, no matter where, there's a huge portion of the audience that won't put up their hand. And I've come to realize that we have made leadership into something bigger than us; something beyond us. We've made it about changing the world. We've taken this title of "leader" and treat it as something that one day we're going to deserve. But to give it to ourselves right now means a level of arrogance or cockiness that we're not comfortable with. And I worry sometimes that we spend so much time celebrating amazing things that hardly anybody can do, that we've convinced ourselves those are the only things worth celebrating. We start to devalue the things we can do every day, We take moments where we truly are a leader and we don't let ourselves take credit for it, or feel good about it. I've been lucky enough over the last 10 years to work with amazing people who've helped me redefine leadership in a way that I think has made me happier. With my short time today, I want to share with you the one story that is probably most responsible for that redefinition.
I went to a little school called Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. And on my last day there, a girl came up to me and said, "I remember the first time I met you." And she told me a story that had happened four years earlier. She said, "On the day before I started university, I was in the hotel room with my mom and dad, and I was so scared and so convinced that I couldn't do this, that I wasn't ready for university, that I just burst into tears. My mom and dad were amazing. They were like, "We know you're scared, but let's just go tomorrow, go to the first day, and if at any point you feel as if you can't do this, that's fine; tell us, and we'll take you home. We love you no matter what.'"
She says, "So I went the next day. I was in line for registration, and I looked around and just knew I couldn't do it; I wasn't ready. I knew I had to quit. I made that decision and as soon as I made it, an incredible feeling of peace came over me. I turned to my mom and dad to tell them we needed to go home, and at that moment, you came out of the student union building wearing the stupidest hat I've ever seen in my life."
"It was awesome. And you had a big sign promoting Shinerama," — which is Students Fighting Cystic Fibrosis, a charity I've worked with for years — "And you had a bucketful of lollipops. You were handing the lollipops out to people in line, and talking about Shinerama. All of the sudden, you got to me, and you just stopped. And you stared. It was creepy."
This girl knows what I'm talking about.
"Then you looked at the guy next to me, smiled, reached into your bucket, pulled out a lollipop, held it out to him and said, 'You need to give a lollipop to the beautiful woman next to you.'" She said, "I've never seen anyone get more embarrassed faster in my life. He turned beet red, he wouldn't even look at me. He just kind of held the lollipop out like this."
"I felt so bad for this dude that I took the lollipop. As soon as I did, you got this incredibly severe look on your face, looked at my mom and dad and said, 'Look at that! Look at that! First day away from home, and already she's taking candy from a stranger?'"
She said, "Everybody lost it. Twenty feet in every direction, everyone started to howl. I know this is cheesy, and I don't know why I'm telling you this, but in that moment when everyone was laughing, I knew I shouldn't quit. I knew I was where I was supposed to be; I knew I was home. And I haven't spoken to you once in the four years since that day. But I heard that you were leaving, and I had to come and tell you you've been an incredibly important person in my life. I'm going to miss you. Good luck."
And she walks away, and I'm flattened. She gets six feet away, turns around, smiles and goes, "You should probably know this, too: I'm still dating that guy, four years later."
A year and a half after I moved to Toronto, I got an invitation to their wedding.
Here's the kicker: I don't remember that. I have no recollection of that moment. I've searched my memory banks, because that is funny and I should remember doing it and I don't. That was such an eye-opening, transformative moment for me, to think that maybe the biggest impact I'd ever had on anyone's life, a moment that had a woman walk up to a stranger four years later and say, "You've been an important person in my life," was a moment that I didn't even remember.
How many of you guys have a lollipop moment, a moment where someone said or did something that you feel fundamentally made your life better? All right. How many of you have told that person they did it? See, why not? We celebrate birthdays, where all you have to do is not die for 365 days —
Yet we let people who have made our lives better walk around without knowing it. Every single one of you has been the catalyst for a lollipop moment. You've made someone's life better by something you said or did. If you think you haven't, think of all the hands that didn't go up when I asked. You're just one of the people who hasn't been told.
It's scary to think of ourselves as that powerful, frightening to think we can matter that much to other people. As long as we make leadership something bigger than us, as long as we keep leadership beyond us and make it about changing the world, we give ourselves an excuse not to expect it every day, from ourselves and from each other.
Marianne Williamson said, "Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate. [It] is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light and not our darkness that frightens us." My call to action today is that we need to get over our fear of how extraordinarily powerful we can be in each other's lives. We need to get over it so we can move beyond it, and our little brothers and sisters and one day our kids — or our kids right now — can watch and start to value the impact we can have on each other's lives, more than money and power and titles and influence. We need to redefine leadership as being about lollipop moments — how many of them we create, how many we acknowledge, how many of them we pay forward and how many we say thank you for. Because we've made leadership about changing the world, and there is no world. There's only six billion understandings of it.
And if you change one person's understanding of it, understanding of what they're capable of, understanding of how much people care about them, understanding of how powerful an agent for change they can be in this world, you've changed the whole thing.
And if we can understand leadership like that, I think if we can redefine leadership like that, I think we can change everything. And it's a simple idea, but I don't think it's a small one. I want to thank you so much for letting me share it with you today.