from guest contributor ~ Bridget Glavaz, ATHENA International Board Director
Recently, I was enjoying a breezy morning with a power walk. As I was walking my regular path, I noticed a middle aged man walking into local church. He had a t-shirt on with the words ASPIRE across the front. I recently became familiar with ASPIRE OF ILLINOIS through a volunteer opportunity, so I approached him and commented that I too was familiar with ASPIRE. What I knew for sure is ASPIRE is a leader in services for children and adults with developmental disabilities. ASPIRE’s goal is to help people with developmental disabilities achieve their highest potential where they live, work or play. ASPIRE assists adults to find their first job, through relationships built in the community.
Bruce seemed like a shy person, and as we began talking, I realized Bruce was in fact a person with a disability. He mentioned by name all the people he worked with at ASPIRE and all the good ASPIRE did in the community. He specifically mentioned Jim Kales, CEO of ASPIRE of Illinois and how Jim personally made an impact on his life. As I stopped and listened, I realized Bruce simply wanted to be heard.
As I continued my walk, and reflected on what just transpired, it was a reminder to me how every person wants to feel important. We all want to be affirmed and know we matter. Perhaps it’s the common denominator we all share.
The simple act of listening to someone’s story and being interested in what is important to them forges a very strong connection. What I noticed with Bruce is as he spoke about ASPIRE he would look up and his eyes would light up and his energy seemed to pick up. It was as though by listening and showing interest, I was validating was important to him for that moment of time.
We all want our own stories to be important. We want our lives to mean something. It is sad how many times I hear people trying to express what’s important to them and it goes completely unacknowledged. Usually this is because the person who could be listening believes that they are too busy to take the time to listen. Has that ever happened to you? How many times has someone asked you if you had a great weekend to make small talk yet does not truly care one way or the other?
Effective and authentic leaders build relationships. They genuinely take the time to listen and connect. They reach beyond status and self-interest in search of meaningful connections. Great leaders take the time to listen; they are making large deposits in the relationship bank. People like people — and are more likely to follow — those who help them feel good about themselves. A simple, yet powerful act.