Does the bell still ring for you?

After two years of the pandemic, living in a time of social and political unrest, facing the industry-wide challenges of hiring and staffing, perhaps dealing with your own health concerns – does the bell still ring for you?

What bell?” you might be asking. I’m referring to the bell in one of my favorite children’s books, The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. I love the artwork – the colors, the lines, the juxtaposition of lightness and darkness.

I especially love the story. In brief, it goes something like this:

On Christmas Eve, a boy gets a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ride the Polar Express bound for the North Pole. He and the other children on the train arrive in time to for Santa’s official giving of the first gift. It is a moment of great anticipation – the selection of who will receive the first Christmas gift. The boy is chosen. “Now what would you like for Christmas?” asks Santa the boy. The boy requests one small silver bell from Santa’s sleigh. “THE FIRST GIFT OF CHRISTMAS!” calls Santa as he hands the boy the bell. There is a great cheer from the masses of elves, and then Santa is off to deliver gifts to the world.

The boy tucks the bell into the pocket of his bathrobe. But on the trip home, he finds a hole in the pocket and the bell missing. Deeply saddened, he returns home. On Christmas morning, after all of the family gifts are opened, the boy’s sister finds one last small box under the tree. “Found this on the seat of my sleigh. Fix that hole in your pocket. – Mr. C” It’s the bell! The boy shook the bell and it made a lovely sound. But his parents said, “Oh, that’s too bad. It’s broken,” when they could not hear it.

The boy writes, “At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them…Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe.”

So I ask again, does the bell still ring for you?

As our world grows more questioning and cynical, The Polar Express seems like a story for our times! Moments of surprise. Moments of loss and grief. Moments of joy and elation. Moments of remembrance and reflection on what matters and what we truly believe.

There are three rather simple truths of leadership that ring for me when I think about the work that lies ahead for each of us.

  1. We must model PERSERVERENCE. We, the leaders, have to be clear and honest about what lies before us. We must communicate this to our teams and help them understand what they are working toward and why it is important.
  2. We must model RESPECT. We, the leaders, have to know our team members. What is their purpose for working? For whom or toward what are they ultimately working? What brings them joy? What do they value? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What do they want to be when they grow up – what are their career aspirations? How can we cultivate them? Most people want to know they matter – and the more we get to know our team members as people, the more we will recognize for ourselves that they do, indeed, matter.
  3. We must model ENCOURAGEMENT. We, the leaders, have to coach our team members to help them reach their potential. I recently shared the quote “The best leaders are passionate about developing emerging leaders, because true leaders don’t create more followers, they create more leaders.” To accomplish this, we must provide regular, ongoing feedback; we must recognize progress; and we must celebrate the wins.

Does the bell still ring for you? As the boy in the story say, “Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe.” Perhaps we can each take a moment to reflect on the truths that we hold dear, and once again hear the lovely sound of that silver bell.

Wishing you and yours a Happy Holiday Season!