I’m adding my voice to the throngs(see list) of folks nominating Jeff Lebow as a Technology and Learning Leader of the Year. I’ve never nominated anyone for an award before… but, over the close to ten years I’ve known Jeff, I’d be hard pressed to imagine anyone who is more worthy, and less willing to admit it.
I arrived in Pusan, South Korea in the late fall of 1998, and ran into the first real social networking person i’ve ever met. I found Jeff in an expat bar, video camera in hand, recording something that was compelling. I forget what. But I do remember that the a few days later i went to one of the two or three internet places in town, and checked out the photos of the night that I met him on Pusanweb… a place where people went to share their idea, their photos and their experiences with other people that they know (sound familiar?). I had found my first link to something familiar in a foreign land, the first handhold to something understandable. It was, for me, an avenue for belonging.
It is this ability to engender a sense of belonging… of allowing them to feel like a ‘part’ of something, rather than a ‘recipient’ of something that I’ve always seen as Jeff’s special gift. When i first approached him (after the three times I said I ‘really wanted to be part of something’ and didn’t do it) about being part of something, he was gracious, he was humble about what he knew. Amazingly generous in handing out the knowledge he had. Frank about what he didn’t know. We worked together on various projects in Korea. He showed me the discussion forums he was using with his students, really, was the person who got me started being serious about education. We did some webcasting. Did some conferences. Had a great time.
A while after we moved back over to NA, Jeff skyped and asked if I wanted to do some webcasting he’d worked out using skype, shoutcast, and a few other tools. That day a bunch of folks showed up to the show. I was, as you might expect, a little caught up in what i was saying, and not maybe as keen at bringing in the community as I maybe would be now. Jeff turned on the spot, introduced himself, us, worldbridges… and started a dialogue. In about 5 minutes he made those folks (in fact… the webheads) feel like they owned the place.
It’s been over two years since that day. We’ve got several large communities that grew out of those early webcasts. When people talk about joining the community on Edtechtalk, for instance, we have a simple response. “Is it ‘worldbridgy’?” If it is… then it’s fine. If it isn’t… then not so much. It might, if I were to admit it in a dark alley, just as easily be called ‘Jeff Lebowness’. The communities that grow around Jeff… like edtechtalk, like webcastacademy and a multitude of others in the worldbridges family all share some common values, and they just so happen to be the same values that Jeff exudes in every webcast; passion, empathy, acceptance of difference, an interest in connection, a wonder in learning new thing in people and tech, and… as weird as it might sound… he’s just really nice. You can hear this attitude in the skype chats that run around the worldbridges community (I’m subscribed to three that do very interesting edtech work), in the nine show on edtechtalk… in the webcastacademy communities… people are friendly, they are helpful… AND PEOPLE LEARN.
Leadership, in my mind, is not simply about setting an example. It’s about setting an example that, when followed, makes people feel better about themselves, and makes them better actors in their lives.
Jeff does exactly that.