Last year as I wrote Gracious Leadership, Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before, I had an opportunity to reflect upon some very important people in my life…. individuals whose influence made a permanent impact upon who I am and how I lead.
Certainly, my parents shaped and molded my convictions regarding the need to respect all people, to demonstrate uncompromising integrity and to be courageous at all times… especially in the midst of turmoil and difficulty. Loving teachers inspired the young people of my hometown to be our very best in the classroom. They taught us to reach for the sky and to dream big about how we might change the world for the better. And during this week when the NCAA Final Four Women’s Basketball Championship is being played here in Columbus, I fondly reminisced about my high school coach who, by believing strongly in the potential of his young basketball players, led four lanky freshmen to a 28-5 record with all-conference honors during our senior year. That same coach instilled within us a deep conviction that “team” should always take precedence over individual performances and that discipline would forever be required to master any game plan we might pursue in life or in work.
As I wrote Gracious Leadership, I also thought deeply about my most impactful professional mentors. Each one of these leaders clearly made a positive, permanent imprint upon my life and my work as they role modeled “how” to lead. I was taught by their examples early on in my career the importance of developing aspiring leaders and teaching them to become comfortable being uncomfortable in mastering new skills. I learned the importance of showing compassion to all employees while concurrently ensuring that accountability processes were established and followed with consistency. One vital mentor taught me the sanctity of listening to others with purpose as though they were the only individuals within my world. And yet, when pondering an important, high impact career assignment, another revered mentor demonstrated great confidence and calculated risk-taking by placing more importance upon a rising leader’s potential and zeal for excellence as opposed to considering solely the individual’s prior work experience.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity within Gracious Leadership to share the lessons of leadership and life that I learned from my positive, role model mentors. It was not only a gift to reach back and thank them for the permanent impact they have had on my life, but also a blessing to pay forward these lessons by challenging the leaders of today and tomorrow to lead similarly in a fully respectful manner.
Throughout my career, I have also had the opportunity to learn from a few colleagues how “not” to lead. From bully behaviors and playing the “blame game” to anger management issues and a preoccupation with organizational politics, I believe these toxic actions prevented our organizations from realizing their full potential. Yes, these toxic leaders also made a permanent impact upon my leadership and my life as I became deeply convicted to lead with goodness and with grace while vowing never to emulate their untenable behaviors.
I’d like to challenge you to take a few minutes and think about the permanent impact you are making upon those individuals whom you are leading…. especially those who are in the early chapters of their careers. Consider the lessons you are teaching them today. And then fast forward forty years and ponder what your followers might say about your mentorship at that time in the books they may write about leadership and life. Will you be the mentor they long to remember with great fondness or did you teach them how “not” to lead?