It is hard to lean in without someone to lean on.
Early in my tenure leading Community Relations at Target, I was tapped to speak at our annual sales meeting. This is a big event: 10,000 leaders coming together to hear our strategy for the year ahead, and expecting to leave inspired. I was one of a dozen or so speakers, most of whom were seasoned executive officers. I had done very little public speaking, and it was still way outside of my comfort zone.
I wanted to throw up.
It wasn’t just nerves. I felt a heavy sense of obligation to effectively represent the company, team members and partners. I needed a lifeline.
Thankfully, I had one. I was standing backstage with one of my idols and mentors, Coretta Scott King, wife of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who would join me for part of the presentation. I could have put on a brave face for this remarkable woman (and Lord knows I wanted to). But I managed to summon the nerve to tell Mrs. King I was afraid. This woman of extraordinary courage, wisdom and grace laid her hand on my arm, looked me in the eye, and said, “Laysha. You have earned the right to be here. Do what you have to do. Do what you’ve been called upon to do.”
Too often, many of us believe we haven’t earned the right to our opportunities. I am fortunate to have been raised in a culture and family that insists otherwise. And so when Mrs. King spoke, I heard the echoes of my Grandma Hattie Mae and many others who told me over and over again, “Girl, you are a child of God.” This was simply how they conveyed we all have value and are all worthy to reach for what may seem like the impossible. Fear not. Take a risk and be willing to strive for progress - not perfection - on your life's journey.
It was the reminder I needed to build my confidence and bring voice to the work that I was so passionate about and humbled to share.
Real leadership and growth emerge from our willingness to ask for help and give it. None of us gets very far alone. Authentic human networks are built on a balance of vulnerability and strength, trust and acceptance of the idea that we'll all get better together.
Ten years ago I leaned on Mrs. King so I could lean in to an incredible opportunity. Together, we made a quick trip to the ladies’ room to freshen our lipstick, took three deep breaths and walked onto the stage.