How a Box of Mac and Cheese Forever Changes My Perspective on Leadership

What does it mean to be a leader?

Instantly, you probably think of people like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, or Winston Churchill. You see, we reserve the term, leader, for our heroes.

The idea of leadership seems like something bigger than ourselves, like a pedestal we can never reach.

I used to think the exact same way.

I’d never call myself or friends leaders. How could I? I don’t feel like a leader, I’m not significant enough for that. If I were a leader, that would mean I could make a real impact on other people’s lives.

But my whole view of leadership was changed … over a box of dry mac and cheese.

     For the full keynote watch: Why not YOU: Find the Leader Within

How on earth could a box of dry mac and cheese change my perspective on leadership?? Well, let me tell you a little story.

One day, back in HS, my friend Muhammad came to me expressing how he wanted to be more involved in our community. He told me he wanted to start a camp for the kids. Personally, I thought he was crazy, what teenager wants to be responsible for small children? But then he told me something truly powerful.

He told me, “I want to give them an opportunity that we never got.”

That really stuck with me. I could make a change in someone’s life. At that moment, I was hooked.

That took us to the next step, figuring out how to get this thing off the ground. I had no idea how to run a camp, but I knew we could figure it out along the way.

We got a license from the school, we created a schedule, we designed posters and hung them up all over town. We even went around knocking on every door of the community letting them know that we were hosting this camp called The Ultimate March Break Camp (creative, right? 😉).

The first day came and we waited at the school for the kids to arrive. Twenty kids showed up that first day.

That’s when I started to realize that you didn’t need permission to lead, you simply needed to act.

Act on what you believe in, act on your passion, act on that instinct that you could help someone else. ACT.

Now, the other thing you need to do when hosting a kids’ camp is to collect their candy. You know in case someone has peanuts. Anaphylactic shock is never a fun place to start camp.

So, there we are collecting candy. The first kid has some dunkaroos, ooohhh remember those? The cookies dipped in icing, yum. The next kid has fruit roll-up and now we’re talking because those things are essentially sugar cocaine.

And then I come to this kid holding a box of KD. He smiles up at me, holds out his box of KD and exclaims with joy, “I like dry mac and cheese!” It took all of my willpower to not burst out laughing. But luckily my co-counselor came to save the day.

“Is that dry mac and cheese? Can I have some?” he asks.

The kid is ecstatic and with his eyes gleaming eagerly nods his head. Muhammad proceeds to take an enormous handful to put in his mouth. To say I was confused would be the understatement of the century.

And then, just as I thought things couldn’t get any wilder, the other kids, with their delicious snacks, offer to trade their delicious snacks… for dry mac and cheese! I felt like I was on another planet.

From then on, we called that kid ‘Mac,’ and he became one of the coolest kids at camp.

After the camp, we got an email from Mac’s Mom saying,

“I believe you’ve abducted my child and given me another one. My child has never been able to find friends, but today he is out in the playground making new friends on his own.”

And that’s when I realized what kind of impact I could on someone’s life.

I realized that leadership wasn’t a noun, it was a verb.

Mac and his box of dried KD showed me the power of leadership. How a single action could create belonging.

You see, one single, small act of leadership creates an enormous ripple effect.

It creates a relationship between two people, creating a relationship between many people, which then creates a relationship between everyone giving people a community to belong to.

A lot of us are afraid to accept the impact of our actions.

We make leadership into this huge role that we can’t obtain because we think that only huge heroic acts can get us there. But we’ve got it all wrong.

Leadership is small, consistent actions.

We are leaders when we repeat little acts of belonging over and over again, because that is how we create community, by giving people a place to belong.

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