Is Leadership Just Kindness? | Sarah Armstrong | TEDxCincinnatiWomen

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In order to lead large groups of people, do we first need to learn how to lead just one person at a time? A random encounter with a stranger on an airplane suggests that anyone can be a leader at any time if we focus our time and energy on just being kind when people need it most. Sarah Armstrong shows us how to lead with just one person. Sarah Armstrong currently serves as the Chief Operating Officer for a rapidly growing healthcare revenue cycle company. Upon becoming a widow at the age of 31, Sarah used the life-altering experience to help shape and craft the way she looks at life, love, people and leadership. For the last ten years, she has studied and explored all aspects of leadership through personal development and formal leadership education. She now uses her passion for leadership and love of learning to lead change, mentor others and help each person reach their fullest potential. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at https://www.ted.com/tedx <br> <h3>Auto Generated Captions</h3>

I want to challenge your idea of
leadership when you think about that
word what are some images that come to
mind
leadership is it maybe an office
building maybe a conference room or
maybe you picture yourself in front of a
large group of employees but what if
leadership isn’t something we just do at
work
what if leadership isn’t anything more
complicated than thymus and basic human
interaction and the skills we need to
get the best out of our teams at work
are the same skills to just extend
kindness when someone needs it the most
in the early days of my career I had I
was very fortunate I had an amazing
mentor his impact on my life has been
and continues to be immeasurable I
credit him with getting me hooked on all
things leadership I’ve read dozens of
books watched all the TED Talks even
participated in a year-long immersion
program at the University of Washington
leadership put quite simply is my jam
there is no higher compliment than when
someone reaches out to me just for just
to ask for some advice and I love to
play the role of office therapists as
people confide their professional fears
frustrations and aspirations in me
recently though I had an experience that
rocked me to my core caused me to
question everything I believed about
leadership I had a random encounter on
an airplane with a stranger in my role
as chief operating officer of a rapidly
growing organization I spend a lot of
time onstage Sara the CEO o is
gregarious charming full of energy and
loves people Sara the person prefers her
jammies her Netflix and her cone of
silence yes
my job requires me to be a frequent
flyer which isn’t nearly as glamorous as
you might think
in airports and airplanes are places
where you can be surrounded by tons of
people yet also be completely alone it
can be unnerving for some novices but
for some experts using your headphones
to block out your surroundings maybe you
know recharge your battery watch a quick
show can be the dose of medicine that
you need to save your sanity and for
whatever reason I’m one of those people
that strangers like to talk to I
[Applause]
normally just smile politely and wait
for them to finish and then I get back
to whatever I was doing and I’m pretty
good at giving them just enough
attention so that I don’t appear rude
but not so much that I’m really invested
in whatever it is they’re saying but
this day was different on this day I had
my business suit my carry-on and my
headphones and as I approached my seat I
broke the cardinal rule I made eye
contact I made eye contact and she
offered me some words of encouragement
about being a short woman and high heels
shoving my carry-on in the overhead
space I smiled politely and said thank
you and then thought how quickly can I
get those headphones into position
before I could get my ears covered
though she said something else warm and
kind and I was so distracted thinking
why is this woman talking to me I don’t
even remember what it was what I do
remember with mind-boggling clarity is
realizing that I needed to make a choice
I could either ignore this woman or I
could engage her in conversation
when I was 31 years old I lost my
husband to cancer and what I learned
about human behavior in the year
following his passing changed my life
the most important thing that I learned
is that the vast majority of people
struggle to think about anything through
someone else’s eyes or to really
consider how someone else might feel so
picture us I’m sitting next to Jackie on
the plane III decided I was gonna talk
to her right I put my headphones in my
bag I turned myself Turk toward her
learned her name was Jackie found out
that she loved horses and she was going
from a terrifying health crisis so as I
sat there i listened to her and she
shared with me that she was going
through a battery of tests to determine
whether or not she had cancer
she shared with me her symptoms her
family’s reaction and her fear I shared
the story of my husband and I told her
how to navigate the health care system I
told her what questions she should ask
and Jackie cry I reached over and I took
her hand and I just sat there with her
in her emotions I didn’t think about
anything
didn’t think about the emails that were
piling up really all I thought about is
that circumstances put me next to a
woman who was in desperate need of
kindness comfort and compassion by the
end of the flight Jackie’s grip on my
hand started to loosen and as we landed
we exchanged phone numbers and parted
ways it was sometime later in a quiet
moment that I thought huh maybe that is
leadership not the kind of leadership
that you’re gonna read about in all the
business books a different kind of
leadership one where you can lead a
person one person can lead another
person from one
mental or emotional place to another and
as I thought about as I reflected on
that experience I thought about the fate
that had to occur for Jackie to be
seated next to someone that understood
they had intricacies of health care and
of cancer treatment but what really
struck me is how close I came to missing
it I had to make a decision in a second
was I gonna be Sarah the CEO or Sarah
the introvert I desperately wanted to
put my headphones in disconnect from the
world and recharge my battery but a
voice from inside me caused me to lean
into her the voice of the widow that had
suffered her own feelings of fear and
powerlessness shoved me out of my cone
of silence and offered to help her
shoulder that burden even if it was just
for 90 minutes
when Jackie called me some weeks later
to tell me the outcomes of her tests I
was stunned thrilled that she was
healthy but shocked that with everything
going on in her life she would call me a
complete stranger I listened to her
voicemail more than once where she
thanked me again for my kindness on the
day that we met I even played the
voicemail for some of my friends who did
not believe this story and since then
I’ve thought about the impact we can
have on anyone at any time human
interaction is a fascinating thing to
experience if only we can step outside
of ourselves and experience it we trade
energy all day long
positive and negative with with people
right
and every person we encounter we leave a
little bit of ourselves behind kind of
like a fingerprint what does your
fingerprint look like I like to think
that I was the leader on the day that I
met Jackie that I led her from bottled
up emotion and fear to a more peaceful
place I like to think that the
fingerprint I left on her life was light
and calming and a reminder that kindness
exists in unexpected places
but I don’t want you to just think about
what I gave Jackie I want you to think
about what Jackie gave me her
fingerprint on my life challenge the way
that I understood leadership a topic
that I thought I had mastered my 90
minutes with her taught me that anyone
everyone at some point will need a
leader
and anyone at anywhere at any time has
the opportunity to be one they may not
show up at the door of your office but
they will show up and all you need to do
is put your headphones away and see
where it leads thank you
you

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