19 July 2018
We frequently talk about the need to “pay it forward” in the workplace and in life at large. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to invest our time, talents and (hopefully) our wisdom into our mentees so they can seek to become all they were created to be.
In addition to paying it forward, have you ever considered the importance of reaching back and expressing your gratitude to those who invested in “your” growth and development?
I recently was meeting with a mentee, and we had a delightful conversation regarding her career aspirations and strategy for her advancement. After we talked about her professional roadmap, she shared she recently had an opportunity to thank her mother for the sacrifices she had made as she supported her daughter’s growth and development.
This conversation made me long to turn back the hands of time and talk once more with my parents, both of whom are deceased. To my mother, I would thank her for being a role model of kindness, encouragement and compassion. To my father who was an attorney, if only I could find a way to see him try a case in court. And, I would ask him to share all he experienced as he advocated for Equal Rights at the pinnacle of racial unrest in Mississippi in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement. Regrettably, my father passed away before I had a full understanding of the courage he displayed as he assumed a high profile, high-risk role in advocating for respect for all people without regard to their ethnicity, gender or socioeconomic status.
Because of the lessons I learned from my parents, I seized the opportunity to honor them by dedicating Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before to their memory. Clearly, they were incredible role models of several of the Key Ingredients of Gracious Leadership.
Writing Gracious Leadership also afforded me an opportunity to reflect upon the impact of other mentors who shaped me into the leader I have become. As I reflected upon all I had gleaned, I reminisced about four individuals in particular who had a pivotal impact upon my professional journey. And, I decided to honor them by sharing within my book the profound impact they each had upon my career.
As I contacted these individuals to describe my intent, each leader displayed abundant humility as they learned what I wanted to share. It gave me such joy to have the opportunity to thank them for believing in my potential and for taking a chance on me as I traversed the professional pathways I was meant to follow.
As a leader, I am confident you will pay it forward as you seek to help your mentees realize their full potential. While we can all readily agree that life and work are busy, and there are never enough hours in any day, I challenge you to be purposeful in reaching back and thanking those very special individuals who believed in you and who inspired you to be all you were created to be! Start reaching back today! You’ll be so glad that you did!
Leaders in the School of Life
30 April 2018
Forty years ago this month, I completed my academic studies in finance at the University of Mississippi. Ole Miss was an important part of my family’s traditions, and I treasure fond memories from my time in Oxford. From playing Division 1 basketball to serving in leadership positions within various campus organizations, I am grateful for the opportunity to have received a “well-rounded” education as I experienced formal academic training and also learned a lot about life in general.
Earlier this year I was invited back to my alma mater to lecture in several classes regarding the importance of gracious leadership.
As I contemplated the guidance I might offer the bright-eyed students of the Trent Lott Leadership Institute for Public Policy, several important messages from the school of life took center stage.
Passion, respect and authenticity
First, because these students are deciding what to do with the rest of their lives, I encouraged them to do what they love and love what they do. In every aspect of life, matching the passion of the person with the purpose of the work can yield great joy as opposed to viewing work as “just a job.”
I encouraged these future leaders to get involved in causes they care about and to speak up with confidence about issues they believe are important. I urged them to ask for stretch assignments, so they can broaden their skills while enriching their learning opportunities. And I cautioned them not to fear failure as learning from mistakes is an important part of life and work.
Because these students aspire to serve as future leaders within organizations of all types, I encouraged them to appreciate the value brought forth by “all” members of their teams, regardless of titles or positions. This basic respect is mission-critical as leaders seek to maximize the ROI of their most precious asset — their people.
I coached them to listen more than they talk. Great leaders know that while those who talk the most in conversations may feel better about the discussions when concluded, the individuals who listen the most will likely be more enlightened.
Lastly, I encouraged these students to remain true to who they are versus what they think someone else expects them to be. I shared with them that henceforth, their full-time homework assignment will be: to become all they were created to be.
Mentor with care
When I reflected upon my time with these students, I was reminded that as leaders in the workplace, we also serve as faculty in the school of life.
It is our responsibility to be purposeful in teaching our followers important lessons about both work and life at large. As leaders, we are accountable for helping our employees understand not only “what” they are to lead, but also that “how” they lead is of equivalent importance.
Please remember that the school of life is in session every day, and the lessons your employees learn in the workplace will transcend all aspects of life.
The Permanent Impact of Mentors
27 March 2018
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?