Dr. Cummings: Who am I?

July 14, 2013 

If the answer to the question: “Who am I?” is “nobody,” then it really doesn’t matter, does it?

I don’t have to wonder; I don’t have to search; I don’t have to find out. I lived in Richmond, Va., in the summer of 1949, and rode the public bus to town. The back half of the bus was filled with African-Americans; the front half by European-Americans. Black vs. white.

I was a white 18-year-old boy from California and this was my first week in the South. I paid my fare and began walking down the aisle to find a seat, but the only available seat was on the aisle at the half way mark, and a pretty black girl my age was seated next to the window. I could hear whispers from the back: “Move back here, girl!” and grumbles from the front, just as threatening. She didn’t move and I could tell she wasn’t going to budge.

I sat down and looked at her and said: “Who are you?” She flashed me a big smile, tilted back her head and said the words I will never forget: “I’m somebody!” If we’re ever going to begin trusting each other, we have to start with knowing ourselves, and who we really are.

Try rating yourself on these statements: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7. Seldom, sometimes, nearly always,

• 1. I am aware of my feelings and can identify why I feel the way I do ( ).

• 2. I am aware that nothing (weather, people, or events) can make me sad or happy or angry or jealous; only I can do that ( ).

• 3. I listen to others and hear them out -- even when I disagree with them ( ).

• 4. I face confrontations with tact when I feel it’s necessary ( ).

• 5. I feel confident -- not arrogant -- about my skills and capabilities ( ).

If you (or a friend of yours) rated you a 4 or below on any of these statements, you might want to read “Resonant Leadership” by Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee. All of us need to come face to face with the phrase: Know Thyself, which has been attributed to 11 Greek Sages, but notably Socrates.

Business executives (and physicians) who are serious about leadership always insist that I conduct an Executive 360 for them. This gives them feedback from peers, direct reports and their own managers, and allows them to compare this data with the evaluation they have made of themselves. There is no doubt that each one of us is “Somebody.” The question is: “Who’s somebody are we?”

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com.

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