Last Saturday, I attended the Winter IRL event for high school journalists who write for the LA Times HS Insider. It was a bit daunting driving up to their big building near the airport with the huge LA Times sign on top and having my name checked off a list at two security checkpoints. But once I made it off the elevator, everything changed.
A young man in jeans and an untucked shirt like mine came right up to me and introduced himself. So did a young lady with dark long hair and a huge, gentle smile. I found out they were both editors who have been editing student submissions! The whole day turned out to be just like them: warm, welcoming and casual.
Not that I didn’t learn a lot. We went over some provocative quotes about leadership and discussed our favorites. We talked about what being a leader means and some of our personal role models. But my favorite part was when people shared their own leadership experiences.
One girl shared about the thrill she had leading a high school March for Our Lives walkout to protest the lack of adequate gun control creating deadly situations on school campuses. Another shared her challenges getting a school newspaper started at her STEM school.
These were inspiring stories, but my favorite was told by a young man who works the night shift at his college cafeteria. He described a new coworker, a woman old enough to be his mother who barely knew English and was therefore struggling to follow job instructions.
One day he saw her just standing in the kitchen, looking totally frustrated. The young man walked over, introduced himself in Spanish, started explaining what needed to be done and started helping her out. The woman’s whole face it up as she declared, “Mi hijo!” From then on, they continued to help each other, she did fine on the job, and they would take their breaks together and chat about their families. The young man said, “I don’t know if this counts as a leadership story, but I just love this lady!”
I thought to myself, on the contrary, his was the best leadership story and the best life story. Isn’t that what it’s all about, to help each other and form these relationships of friendship and concern? To me, the most meaningful leadership happens at the one-on-one level. That’s the kind that lasts because what you learn from a mentor or friend and the relationships you form of mutual help can stick for life.
I had to leave before the facilitators got the chance to ask the final question on their meeting agenda: what is one thing you’d like to see change in the world. I’ll answer it now — more friendships and less fighting, more teamwork and less politics, in every place and time.