On Contribution…

Dr. Jenn McCabe

Founder of Radical Relating, Director of the World Makers Leadership Program, and CEO of Lead. Gather. Relate.

When we talk about what it means to “make a difference” we tend to mix our agency, our actions, our contributions with what the other did with what we contributed. We conflate our agency to extend beyond ourselves and say our reach extends over and into another’s sovereignty. This is akin to us playing God in a way. We say we “made” the other do, think, feel, believe, etc. This is of course an impossibility. We cannot make another feel something they don’t want to feel. So when we circle back to the idea of making a difference, that return must include the recognition that “making a difference” is something the person you serve decides, and in the end it has nothing to do with you or your work. It make be thanks to you, but not because of you.


“Where do you fit into the equation if ‘making a difference’ isn’t in your wheelhouse?”


It comes down to knowing two things—what it is you’re creating in the world and what it is you want to contribute.


What you are creating boils down to your vision and your commitments.

These things, and ONLY these things, are in your wheelhouse. I want you to answer the following three questions:

  1. What is your vision?
  2. What are you committed to?
  3. How do you know if it’s working?

For the first question I go back to Lead. Gather. Relate’s. definition of vision—A vision is something in you that you want others to follow. Regardless of where you think that something comes from (God, universe, experience), it’s in you and you want to create it.

What I get out of my leadership is different from what my follower gets from following.

What I get out of it is an opportunity to connect, an opportunity to take a step towards achieving my vision. I don’t know what the follower gets except in the general proposition that there’s something in it for the follower when he follows. If I want to know specifically what that is, I have to ask.

I’ve been told: “This class fundamentally shifted my understanding of relating,” and “It helped me when you said I was avoiding the conflict, so thank you.” These are examples of how a person I serve might say I made a difference, but remember and notice that the determination comes from the other person, not me.

I want to make it clear—it’s not that those things aren’t a source of joy for me. They are, and I separate my choice of joy from my contribution and my contribution from her determination that I made a difference.


Deciding that you have something in you that you want others to follow is the first act of leadership.

This first act goes largely unnoticed to the outside world. We invite others in with the second act of leadership, which is the articulation of our vision. And the third is relating to those who may choose to follow. It is in that third act of leadership that leading begins.

Why am I making such distinctions?

Because many of us skip the step of articulating our vision. It’s not that we don’t know it, it’s that we don’t say what we know. I think it’s because we often don’t decide to lead—we kind of express our vision in a roundabout way and hope no one notices.

We jump from our vision to relating to followers and then wonder why we’re getting mixed results. The mixed results come from not making the decision to lead. One of the constants I see in our work with Lead. Gather. Relate’s. leadership students is: conditional commitment gets you conditional results. And who wants those? Not me. They’re really unpleasant.

So one of the first commitments that you make is to lead. If you’re vacillating on that, you haven’t decided to lead. Anything but a yes is a no. Which brings me to the second question:


What are your commitments?

Here are some of mine:

Differences matter. When you encounter a difference that you’re not okay with, your life will shrink or expand depending upon your ability to relate competently to the threat. When you are able to relate to differences you’re not okay with, you are able to see that they are the building blocks of potential, of generative change, of growth.

Responsibility is and consequences are. There’s no window shopping for your responsibility. You have it. And consequences exist regardless of the path you choose. So you might as well choose. Suffering ensues when you try to avoid your inherent responsibility and manage consequences. You can’t. You can relate and embrace—or you can suffer. The choice is yours.

No one knows better than you. No one can fix your life better than you. No one can decide the best course of action better than you. No one can do it better than you. This commitment is a cornerstone of one of the core practices of Pluck—empathy, a skill that rests on the commitment that the answers reside in each of us and only within each of us.

What are you committed to?

If you want movement in the form of decisions others can follow, you’ve got to commit. Otherwise no one else will.

Why should a follower follow a conditionally leading leader who’s kinda sorta behind what she says?

Let me give you a stark example from my online business world. There are businesses that promote commitments such as “female empowerment.” The focus of their work is to uplift and support women in the development of their life’s purpose. These same businesses use marketing tactics that are manipulative, drive sign-ups by depicting false scarcity, and leverage the narrative of “you’re not enough” to spur a need for belonging and connection. Those tactics represents some sick, unhealthy marketing that is in direct opposition to the claim of “female empowerment.” We might discern that the underlying commitment is not female empowerment, but profit.

The thing about commitments is that they represent alignment.

When you commit to what you know, to what you believe in, there’s consistency.

When you do that, misalignments will be rare. It is in consistency that your followers come to know not only your vision but who you are as a leader.


How do you know your vision is taking hold?

I think this point is where we can jumble up our followers’ outcomes and our own outcome.

I know my vision is taking flight when I see people gather, when I see people say yes to what I have and ask for more. I know it is taking flight when the people around me are—around me. When they show up week after week. I know my vision is taking flight when a follower contributes her own vision to the mix, and my vision (in its scope) expands. I know my vision takes flight when my commitments start a conversation and when that conversation gets carried on by someone else.

Did you notice that none of the things I described is anchored to change in the other?

All of them are anchored in the other’s decisions to say yes to my invitation, in their contribution, which is generative. The followers yeses, their actions, their contributions, are incredibly precious things.

So now that we’ve covered in general the dynamic occurring between a leader and a follower, let’s get into examining the day-to-day interactions between a leader and follower when some sort of service to others is in the mix through teaching or facilitating.

When considering your interaction with those you serve, I want you to answer these three questions:

  1. What is it that you want?
  2. What resources do you have to offer?
  3. How do you want to show up?


Here are my answers when I consider my interactions with someone:

I want to lead. I want to teach.

I have the ability to integrate complex dynamics (read: I can take in all the information you tell me, all the nuances of where you are, what you’re struggling with, what your projections and decisions are, where you are with your learning, what your unique way of being in the world is and meet you with opportunities and insight that can support your development—it’s my thing).

I have knowledge, skills, and experiences that are available to you.

I know how I want to show up with you—frankly (I don’t hold back) and with my own brand of compassionate accountability, willing to connect, ready to grow, and eager to learn.

These are my contributions. This is what I have to offer. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and that doesn’t mean it isn’t some really good tea.

Now whether you provide a service to someone or opportunities to learn, these next three questions apply. The distinction between leading and offering a service is also easy to glean from the questions. You can think about it this way.


If you want to lead, answer the following:

What is your vision? What are you committed to? How do you know if your vision is taking hold?

If you want to lead and service is part of that vision, or if you want to be of service and not lead, answer the following:

What is it that you want? What resources do you have to offer? How do you want to show up?

Continue Reading in World Making Leadership

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