Real Leaders

The Leader as a Rainbow

The intense storm came and went quickly. Then, as the sun reappeared, it left behind the rainbow you see in the photo above. 

As my wife and I drove by the church at the time, she photographed the image and sent it to Rev. Dr. James Smith, pastor of the church under the rainbow. Later, we learned it had much grander significance than the serendipity of a country church under a beautiful rainbow.  

The rainbow’s end pointed directly at the cemetery behind the church where Smith had just conducted a funeral. Rev. Dr. Smith sent the photo to the family who had lost their son. 

They had been distraught over their loss. Yet, they interpreted this fantastic photo and its timing as a spiritual sign that all was well. 

Its influence on their lives afterward was substantial.

A rainbow is an amazing phenomenon in nature. A rainbow connection can also be a powerful metaphor and guide for executing outstanding leadership. It carries many meanings, each a lesson in how to influence others to achieve important goals. Here are a few to consider.

Rainbows are expressions in light.

Rainbows appear in the section of the sky directly opposite the sun. That means they reflect the sun’s light and spirit. 

Great leaders are light and spirit-infusers; their associates typically reflect that impact. People do not inherit spirit, acquire spirit, or borrow spirit. We all choose spirit, much like we choose to introduce ourselves to a stranger. Those who opt for an upbeat, positive spirit are happier, healthier, and more productive.  

Spirited people choose the light over the fog. Most people don’t opt for the dark but tolerate a fog—those dull, eventless moments. Spirited people demonstrate the courage to show no tolerance or compliance with party poopers, wet blankets, and spoilsports. Helen Keller advised, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Great leaders encourage those they influence to challenge the status quo in ways that provide enrichment, growth, and progress.  

Rainbows are displays of diversity.  

Rainbows show a spectrum of seven colors. When there appears a rare double rainbow, the colors on display are opposite—red is on the inside instead of the outside of the spectrum. It is a powerful symbol for valuing differences and embracing variety. Great leaders appreciate a bouquet of talents, views, and perspectives. They know it is not differences that divide us. What divides us is our refusal to accept and applaud those differences. Great leaders help others see their beauty and embrace their worth.

Best Buy CEO Corie Barry wrote, “It’s been proven time, and again that diverse teams produce better outcomes. It is not just about this year or this moment in time. It is about how each of us continuously thinks about how we drive change for the long term.” Businesses must have the capacity to adapt quickly. Having associates in the huddle focused on the future and not on their opinions of each other helps ensure enduring success.

Rainbows are transparent.  

Ever notice when you approach a rainbow, it seems to melt into thin air. 

It carries no baggage; it makes no judgment. Great leaders use only as much leadership as is needed to achieve the goal. They do not seek to leave behind their signature, only their stimulus. In the song “Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie, one powerful lyric goes, “Rainbows have nothing to hide.”

Leadership is a genuine expression honed from a strong sense of self. It is unabashedly who we really are in front of others. Unshackled by a fear of rejection, such leaders are released to go further and soar higher. Realness is boldness, unclothed, and without remorse. Like a rainbow, great leaders lead with openness and authenticity.   

In so doing, they help others find and express in their work precisely who they are supposed to be.  

Rainbows lead to valued outcomes.

The most popular myth about rainbows is what lies at their end: a pot of gold. The truth is the pursuit of that pot is impossible since rainbows are constantly changing and therefore have no end. Great leaders know that perpetual change is the secret sauce of success. Folk singer Bob Dylan captured that sentiment in the lyrics of his 1964 song, “It’s Alright, Ma.” The words communicate that if you are not actively being born, then you are actively dying. Today, customers notice innovation and read it as an indication of whether an organization will survive.  

Innovation is no longer a nice-to-have strategy. Obvious evidence of experiments, trials, pilots and beta tests implies a company is thinking about the future (“being born”) and not just resting on the present. Moreover, today’s customers are more interested in long-term relationships than drive-by transactions. And they are more apt to invest their time, funds, and affinities in those enterprises they believe will still be around in the future.  

Everyone loves rainbows. It is no accident rainbows decorate children’s faces at fairs, adorn birthday cakes, and are the subject of countless poems and songs. Yet, somewhere over the rainbow, there are poignant lessons for leaders on how to provide inspirational influence that encourages dreams that do come true.

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