They are everywhere, and they are nowhere.
Their integrity is above reproach. And they are honest to a fault.
I call them sleeping giants – an affectionate term I don’t mind admitting I’ve borrowed from friends more creative than I. They move quietly and modestly in and out of your spheres of influence, irrespective of the industry in which you work. They have touched and positively influenced what you do. Words do not exist that can accurately communicate their impact on your life and the lives of those around you.
Chances are you have no idea who they are. And there is good reason for that.
I could say that some of us are just blind to their existence, but that might be too harsh. So, instead I’ll tell a story that may help explain a bit more clearly who they are, why we can’t spot them and how that blind spot is destroying corporate leadership.
My youngest daughter is 4. She’s gregarious and tenacious. She has little regard for those who aren’t kind, and she fights fiercely for two things: her sister, and Hersheypark games.
Roughly two years ago we began taking both girls to Hersheypark. My wife would take them when I had to work during the week and made it clear that games were only to be played when daddy was present. I, of course, had to go once a weekend and spent countless dollars trying to win unwinnable games. But there was a silver lining. It provided me the opportunity to teach my girls about gratitude, a trait that is implicit in the character of a sleeping giant.
I’m going to skip the part where I tell you about the pushback and crying and whining. If you’re a parent, that’s understood. But I’m going to tell you about a time we played the water-gun game (you all know it).
At Hersheypark I’m good at two things: whack-a-mole and the water-gun game. I was modestly confident that this was ours to win. As anticipated, the bell rang and my youngest was given a choice of two gigantic stuffed animals. She chose the bear, and then glanced down the row of competitors and noticed a girl, maybe 8 or 9 years old, looking extremely upset.
This bothered my daughter more than I could have imagined.
She took the animal, walked over to the girl and handed it to her as if she had won it. She didn’t say anything to her sister, mother or me. She just made a move. As she walked back, this girl, easily twice her height, gave her a hug. My other daughter immediately jumped in, while my wife and I just watched, partially amazed and partially ready to cry.
I asked one question and received perhaps the most profound response a 4-year old could muster on her own. “Why did you give up your huge bear?” My daughter replied, “Because I already have one, and she didn’t. I don’t need two, daddy.”
I don’t mind telling you that on that day my daughter influenced me just as the sleeping giants in my life. Perhaps I’m beyond receiving stuffed animals, but I’m not beyond receiving grace and wisdom.
Neither are you.
Our blind spot is a product of our environment. Everything around us conditions us to want and take and accumulate. And if we are prompted to give, it’s with conditions. How might we profit from what we give?
When is the last time you offered your time to mentor someone inside or outside of your vocation? More importantly, when is the last time you did it without making an addition to your resume (written or vocal)?
We are eroding the foundation of remarkable leadership because of these attempts to measure and record the unmeasurable.
Much like my daughter, the sleeping giants around us give because it is what is good – simple, elegant, and good. They may host a cookout or provide guidance when the moral compass around you is misleading.
Above all things, they do so with an unexpectant heart and a position of gratitude. Not sometimes, but always. If we are to have a chance at building back a generation of leaders, we need to do so from a place of giving.
So, the big question: how can you spot a sleeping giant? Fortunately for them, you can’t. They will find you. And should they decide to invest in you, it will not be because of your brain or what you can offer them.
It will be because they’ve observed you giving up that proverbial bear without a single, solitary string. To them, your gift of the bear is evidence enough that their time with you will pay a dividend a thousand times greater to someone else down the line.
True influence – truly remarkable leadership – is all about how we give up that bear, and who’s not watching when we do. Sleeping giants are named as such because their greatest gift is that no one is watching when they give.
We should all be so inclined.
Brandon Rogers is a partner at LinkBankcorp Inc., a startup bank in Central Pennsylvania. His past experience includes finance roles at Giant, Highmark and JPMorgan.