Simple Acts of Deep Meaning Drew Dudley redefines leadership as planning to matter, then living each day to enact your vision. In keeping with the 2016 ASHA Convention theme, he shares how to show “Everyday leadership. Leadership every day.” Features
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Features  |   August 01, 2016
Simple Acts of Deep Meaning
Author Notes
  • Bridget Murray Law is editor-in-chief of The ASHA Leader. bmurraylaw@asha.org
    Bridget Murray Law is editor-in-chief of The ASHA Leader. bmurraylaw@asha.org×
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ASHA News & Member Stories / Features
Features   |   August 01, 2016
Simple Acts of Deep Meaning
The ASHA Leader, August 2016, Vol. 21, 50-53. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.21082016.50
The ASHA Leader, August 2016, Vol. 21, 50-53. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.21082016.50
It was orientation day at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada. Senior Drew Dudley handed out welcoming lollipops to nervous freshmen, a silly hat clapped onto his head.
“It was kind of like the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter, except twice as big, made out of gray felt and wrapped in a gaudy 1970s Chesterfield fabric,” says Dudley. “I was probably trying to get attention like a typical guy who’s 20-some years old. I believe the term is peacocking.”
One young woman’s uneasy face caught his eye. So he advised a neighboring young man to give a lollipop to this “beautiful woman standing next to you.” When the man did as he was told, Dudley shook his head and said to the woman’s parents: “Look at that. First day away from home and already she’s taking candy from a stranger!”
A combination of that comment, the young man’s embarrassment and Dudley’s bizarre headgear sent the woman into fits of laughter—but it also did much more than that: It dispelled her fears and convinced her to stay enrolled at Mount Allison. Before Dudley’s antics, she’d been planning to quit.
The woman made a point of telling Dudley this when he graduated. Not only did she stay enrolled, but she ended up dating—and eventually marrying—the embarrassed lollipop-giver. Dudley’s simple actions, she told him, had changed her life.
In turn, her comment changed Dudley’s outlook on leadership: that it isn’t necessarily about superstar, world-changing achievements or top-down control. Creating simple “lollipop moments” can also profoundly affect others.
“I realized that leadership, fundamentally, is identifying and living what you want to stand for on a daily basis,” says Dudley, organizational consultant and founder of Nuance Leadership, Inc. “I think most of us hope to matter. I think hoping to matter isn’t leadership. My type of leadership is saying, ‘Don’t let days go by where all you did was be here. Don’t be reactive. Actually plan to matter.’”
As the keynote speaker at this year’s ASHA Convention, Dudley will focus on how attendees can maximize their already substantial impact in audiology and speech-language pathology by creating—and taking credit for—moments of everyday leadership.

“Leadership, fundamentally, is identifying and living what you want to stand for on a daily basis. I think most of us hope to matter. I think hoping to matter isn’t leadership. My type of leadership is saying, ‘Don’t let days go by where all you did was be here. Don’t be reactive. Actually plan to matter.’”

A limiting definition
Dudley’s passion for everyday leadership stems from his frustration with a society he sees as overvaluing academic grades and money. This comes at the expense of values and meaning, he says.
“Education is a wildly important thing,” says Dudley. “It is one of the most empowering, liberating, important systems in our society. It can also be one of the most dangerous and limiting systems. Anything powerful can also be dangerous.”
Dangerous? Really? Dudley found that, as a student, the emphasis on grades stifled his personal growth. “My self-worth became determined by how well I could please the person at the front of the room—whether I could get an ‘A,’” Dudley says. “Since then, what drives a lot of my work is to let people know that because you’re a ‘C student’ doesn’t mean you’re a ‘C person.’”
Grades, Dudley explains, put us into a ranking system early in life. “Then we stay in the system,” he says. “First it’s grades, then it’s money. The idea is that the important people in society are the ones at the top of any ranking system.”
This notion is reinforced by the examples of leaders we’re given: presidents, scientific groundbreakers, elite athletes, business tycoons and people who conquered empires. “And for most people, becoming a Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs or Oprah Winfrey seems as likely as winning the lottery,” Dudley says.
A quest to redefine
So why does such an unattainable idea of leadership get perpetuated? Because it’s easy to understand—and it’s upheld by people in power, says Dudley.
“The powerful and influential in our society tend to want to create a mystique around the things that they have and other people don’t,” he says. “You leverage your greater resources and influence to keep that power and influence.”
Not that he means to diminish the accomplishments of traditionally defined leaders. “It does take a certain set of skills to break a world record, to create a company and rise to the top. What I’m saying is that’s not the only form of leadership.”
When we reconceptualize leadership as smaller, daily decisions, Dudley says, it’s within reach. He likens this leadership approach to running a marathon or losing 100 pounds. Each may seem unachievable as a singular goal, but they become more doable if you reduce them to daily behaviors: You decide to run a few more steps each day, or to eat a bit less and add some more exercise. Dudley himself has lost 100 pounds using this approach.
“Great leaders don’t live their values whenever the opportunity presents itself; great leaders create opportunities to live their values,” he explains. “In doing so, they tend to get as a natural byproduct a lot of the things we’re taught to chase as goals: respect, prestige, money, jobs and acknowledgement.”

“We tend to prioritize all the things we want to get done today ahead of prioritizing who we want to be. My argument is don’t do that. Make living up to your core values as important as anything else in your life, if not more important.”

Leadership, every day
Becoming an everyday leader starts with heightened awareness of our everyday behavior and impact on others, says Dudley.
“A lot of us go through our lives not fully in charge of what we have to do every day—if you have a job, you have to be there at a certain time; if you have children, there are certain things you have to do,” he says. “But we’re always in charge of who we are, how we react to things and what kind of impact we have on the other human beings with whom we interact.”
Once we have this awareness, we can decide to consciously create more daily lollipop moments. Here’s what Dudley tells people:
  • Identify the one core “value” that you want to stand for (start with one). He lists, for example, empathy, compassion, generosity and empowerment. Dudley asks, “If someone followed you around for 30 days out of your life, and saw every interaction of which you were a part, what would they say are the three values that drive your behavior above all others?”

  • Based on your chosen value, create a question that requires you to do something related. Ask yourself the question daily to check if you lived the value. Examples could be, “How did I make somebody feel more comfortable today? How did I make someone feel welcome today?”

Here’s the translation for the ASHA audience: Professionals in communication sciences and disorders exert tremendous influence with clients and families through their daily interactions—and creating and asking everyday-leadership questions can maximize that influence. Some questions to ask yourself could be, “What have I done today to help a vulnerable client feel empowered? What have I done today to recognize another’s leadership?”
“The point is, you have to define the value in order to live it,” says Dudley. “We tend to prioritize all the things we want to get done today ahead of prioritizing who we want to be. And my argument is don’t do that. Make living up to your core values as important as anything else in your life, if not more important.”
Watch Drew Dudley’s TED talk on everyday leadership.
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August 2016
Volume 21, Issue 8