May 22, 2020

Find Their Button; Switch Them On

I used to dread the moment she said that.

“It’s time for your creative juices to flow!”

Our English teacher seemed strong and imposing to me.
She scared me.

But nothing scared me more than staring at a blank sheet of paper, and being asked to create a story.
Particularly since this was the last formal opportunity before our final exams.
THE exams.
The exams that – our parents told us – would decide the rest of our lives.


15 minutes later I had managed to write my name and the date on that terrifying, narrow-lined notepad.

“Please don’t let her walk over here and see how pathetic I am. Please!”
But, of course she did.

When I dared to look up, she was beside me. So close I could hardly breathe.
Then she leaned forward.
I swear I could feel the heat from her body.

“What about that convent where you grew up?
I wonder what comes to mind when you think of that?”

Then she was gone. The other side of the classroom.

And my pen started flying across the page.
I was back there. It was an Autumn evening.
I was walking up that long formidable drive, flanked by swaying, creaking poplars.

Scenes and poetry flowed through my fingers.
I really could write!

I was one of the few that year who scored highly in English Literature.
I even won an award for it; at that ceremony, before I left for the world of work.

Decades later I sought her out. At a school reunion.
She seemed so small.
But still poised and formidable.
Even with her arm in a sling, and white hair.

Doubtless she could feel me hovering beside her, as she chatted to animated former pupils.
As she turned to me, I realised I’d never noticed her smile.

“Well, if it isn’t young David Scarlett!”

I bathed in that instant recognition.
(I’d forgotten about the name badge around my neck)
And returned her smile with my grin.

“I did it, Ma’am” I beamed.
”I became a writer.”
And I thrust my book – ‘The Soul Millionaire’ – into her hands.

“Well, of course you did!” she responded.
And stroked the front cover.

“You were bound to.” she continued.
And started to hand the book back.

“Oh, no.” I exclaimed. “I want you to keep it. To remember.”
At which she clasped my book to her breast.

“So did you do it? Did you become that millionaire’?”
I chuckled nervously. “Erm, not quite.”

Then she leaned over, and whispered.
”Well, I did.” and she patted my arm.. Did she giggle, just a little?
”You never can tell, can you?
Well done you.
And thank you for making my day.”

And she beamed again, before turning to another group of feet-shuffling, eager adults who were still her young pupils at heart.

Those we lead hardly know what they’re capable of.
Their soaring intellect, their creativity, their sparks of genius… can lie there, dormant. Forever.

Our job – THE job – is to find the button that switches them to something more than ‘Doing Their Assigned Role’. More than ‘Doing What They’re Paid To Do.’

Knowing how to discover that ‘button’…
Knowing how to ‘switch them on’…

That’s one of the tests of leadership.
That’s one test that will mark out our own success.
And the success of our team.
Or not.