Why there is no other choice
Growing up, I am sorry to say that there just were not enough adults in my life that actually knew how to lead with love. But there was one person who could have taught a masterclass in it and that was my Aunt Celeste. Just thinking about her brings the biggest smile to my face.
My Aunt Celeste was one of my maternal grandmother’s sisters. She did not have any kind of grand life as a single Black woman cooking and cleaning in the homes of white people both in New York City and South Carolina. She was barely scraping by. I couldn’t tell you what the inside of her apartment looked like, but I could tell you endless stories about the love that everyone received from her, especially my sister and me.
My Aunt Celeste knew how to make you feel like you were smart, interesting, worthy of good things, and nothing short of amazing. The best part of it was that it was all genuine and not dependent on her mood, her life, her money, or what kind of day she was having. In fact, she would let you know that just your presence made her day better!
Aunt Celeste knew how to lead with love and as I reflect on my time spent with her, I realized she left me with some lessons on how to do that.
First off, the minute she saw you, she smiled big and bright. That smile always let us know that we were welcome and that good things were about to happen.
When things didn’t turn out the way we wanted, like our homework, her incredible biscuits, or a reaction from our parents, she let us know that in life, mistakes and bad things happen, but that didn’t make us bad people.
She was the leader in her group of friends which included her longtime gentleman friend Sam, her best friends Lil and Shell, and Gertie and they were always happy to be along for the ride. They happily subscribed to her wisdom in situations where the world was not making it easy to be Black. She led with the promise that in her sanctuary, we were all going to be okay and work together to make sure of it.
Even back then as a child, I knew that this group was also her support group which she needed as every leader needs especially those determined to lead with love. They cheered for each other, encouraged each other, laughed with each other, told affirming stories about one another, and extended the same to us.
I saw her handle conflicts with that same love especially if she had to defend one of us. She would always listen and let you have your say, but then she would display her heart in her response. Her goal was to stand up for folks and try to make things right for everyone if she could. She never left you hanging and believe me, she had some tough folks to go up against but it never diminished their respect for her.
A true leader in love can do what Aunt Celeste did… it was one amazing thing she did every time we stayed with her. She was interested in us and always wanted to know what we liked, but always got us interested in everything she liked even though we only did those things at her house. She had skills! She had us watching wrestling and her New York Mets and neither one was my thing, but I just loved watching the joy it brought to her. My sister and I would always end up cheering right along with her. No one else in our lives had that effect on us. In fact, I’m sure that my interest in wrestling and my sister’s love of baseball comes from watching it with our Aunt Celeste.
Leading in and with love can be learned if you have the right models. I know because there were plenty of other influences and models in my life, but Aunt Celeste left me with a blueprint that I draw on to this day.
I leave the best of that blueprint here for you.
Right now, there are too many leaders who find fault first and value last. We are at a time when leading with love is not reserved for home, it must become a way of life in the workforce.
People are hungry for a place where they can show up and bring their best selves not because it is demanded, but because it is welcomed and nurtured.
We all need this model of leadership.
My Aunt Celeste knew it, not because she learned it in school or in a program, or in a self-help book. During a time when everyone who looked like her was told that they had no value, she saw everyone as being worthy of love.
I’m asking all of us to be that model, because I believe we can be and if we are going to truly change things for the better, there is no other choice.
Thank you, Aunt Celeste. Although you are long gone, your lessons live in me.