My first time in a theater since the pandemic, my husband and I took our two boys to see the new Dr. Strange movie. Popcorn, slushies, the whole experience. It’s a complex storyline set in multiple universes at the same time, and the music is so intense that it feels like someone will be there to kill you or your loved ones at any moment. It was bizarre. Total make-believe. Eyeballs coming out of heads. Star-shaped portals to a different universe where another version of you exists. But the strangest thing wasn’t the cow-man in the pagoda or the soul-sucking power of the witch lady. The strangest thing happened when the movie was over.
During the credits, I started getting our stuff together to leave. My youngest son, sitting to my left, put his hand on my arm , leaned in, and whispered, “Mom. We don’t leave yet. There’s always a bonus part at the end.”
I know this. My husband taught me this about 13 years ago when I saw my first Marvel movie with him in a theater. There’s always more after it’s over, some sort of preview of what’s to come. We always wait. We have waited for every superhero movie for the entirety of this child’s life. He should know that I know this.
I am very loyal to the story about myself that says I already know. I already know that we need to cut 4% from the budget. I already know that the tire on my front driver’s side needs air. Yes, I already know that there’s more to the movie, son.
The strangest part of that movie experience for me was: I did not say “I know.” I said, “OK.”
This pattern of behavior, where my go-to response is to demonstrate that I do not need your help, is - as you might imagine - not a lot of fun for the people around me nor, it turns out, is it an effective leadership practice. But this isn’t a story about me or my ill-advised and unhelpful habits.
This is a story about breaking a pattern. That moment when I did not do the automatic thing – when I chose connection over showing off – was so rare that it felt like make-believe. Also strange was the fact that the sky did not fall. My son did not think I was an idiot. None of the bad things happened. All that happened was that my son felt he had taught me something and influenced my behavior. And that ain’t bad for an afternoon with the fam.
A story about breaking a pattern is really a story about that millisecond between what happens and your response to it, that moment where you have a chance to default to your automated response or customize something that’s just right for this person at this time in this place.
That’s leadership, my friends: it’s giving yourself the gift of the pause and using it to create something new, something special, something that is needed right now.
But you already knew that. :)