Walking early in the morning, I have noticed how the color of things around me changes as the sun begins to rise. When it is still mostly dark with just a hint of light in the eastern sky, the colors I can see are muted. In the circle around a streetlamp, everything is tinted with the orange of the sodium vapor light. Some houses have lighting around them that makes them an oasis of color amid the desert of darkness. As the sky begins to lighten more significantly, I see differences of color in the grass, leaves, and flowers that have recently thrust themselves up and out from winter’s barrenness. By the time the sun is above the horizon and visible, the spectrum of color is fully realized before me.
It is also noticeable how different things look in the morning versus the evening. Colors are cooler and bluer at the start of the day. Afternoon colors have more red and orange and are warmer. Seasons even affect the way things look. Winter seems gray and cold while summer is vibrant and warm. There is a reason for this, and it has to do with the different wavelengths of light and what our eyes and brain do with them.
Objects have color because they reflect certain wavelengths of light. For instance, when light waves in the 600-nanometer range enter my eye, photoreceptors in my retina convert that light to electrical signals that travel through my optic nerve to my brain which tells me I am seeing orange. This makes me happy.
Objects reflect some wavelengths and absorb others. An orange object reflects light in the 600nm range and absorbs the other wavelengths. A black object absorbs almost all wavelengths, and a white object reflects almost all wavelengths. Light is a form of energy, so objects that absorb more wavelengths tend to warm up as the absorbed light is converted into kinetic energy within the atoms of the object.
By now you are asking, “What in the visible world does this have to do with leadership?”
I’m glad you asked. Things around us look the way they look because they are reflecting some light and absorbing some light. In much the same way, as leaders, we will “look” like what we reflect and can mitigate what we absorb. As a concrete example, two drivers are heading toward work in morning rush hour traffic. Someone cuts them off as the lanes narrow into a construction zone. One driver reflects that negative energy by honking, tailgating, and flipping the rude driver off, thus “looking” like the negative and maintaining the negative energy. The other driver takes this in stride, gives the rude driver room, and absorbs the negative energy, removing it from the environment.
In red light, a red object and a white object both look the same. The red object reflects red light only while the white object would reflect all light, but only has red to reflect. Every day we have opportunities to reflect the good and absorb the negative. Saying “thank you”, encouraging another person, smiling, noticing, and mentioning the good other people do are all ways we can reflect good. Not taking offense, refraining from repeating unkind things, having empathy for others, and realizing something else may be bothering someone are ways we can absorb the negative. By reflecting the good and absorbing the negative, we increase the chance that other things will “look” good too, as they have more good to reflect.
Whether we are talking about light or people’s emotions and attitudes, when we reflect it, the energy is bouncing off us and moving on to other people. When we absorb it, the energy must go somewhere. With light, the energy becomes heat. With emotions and attitudes, the energy can become stress, fatigue, or pain. It is critical that we have a way for this absorbed energy to dissipate. We need to release it and let it go, so it doesn’t cause us to “heat up.”
We are going to encounter a wide spectrum of attitudes and emotions as we interact with the people around us each day. Leaders practice reflecting good attitudes and emotions onto the people around them while they absorb the negative ones. Walking in the light of human nature and only reflecting what is good makes everything look better, and it is The Kimray Way.