A Lesson in Leadership: Things I learned from a great leader

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When you leave an organization, what will people say? Will they gossip about your failures, or will they mourn your loss?

If it’s the latter, you are probably a great leader. I’ve had the wonderful privilege of working for one. When he left, we definitely mourned. Over the last few years, my mentor managed crises, supported staff and inspired his team to do things we would have never imagined. I’ve watched closely, and have tried to implement those characteristics into my management style. He always made it look easy, but I know he made a conscious decision to care for his team every day.

Here are a few things I learned along the way:

1. Family first.

This one is easier to tell your team to do than to do yourself. Work is important, and if you love your job, it’s easy to do. But it’s a job. And it can’t take care of you when you’re old. At the end of the day, family matters more – every time. Turn off and tune in.

2. Learn how to tell a great story.

Stories can engage your imagination. One of my favorite talks from my mentor was about his vision for the future. Every time he gave the presentation he would read the audience and tailor it for them – speeding up sections if they were losing interest, or going more in-depth if the audience was engaged. And today, we still talk about it.

Another great example of fantastic storytelling are TED talks. They explain often complicated subjects in a very energizing and memorable way. This is one of my favorites:


3. Sometimes you just need to listen.

At the beginning of every update, my mentor always asked about the kids, my husband or what was going on in life. He also remembered what I told him. It was a simple gesture, but one that I will always carry on.

4. Be authentic and transparent.

He didn’t beat around the bush. You always knew what was on his mind. And for that reason, I always trusted him to be honest. I still do.

5. Be loyal to build loyalty.

A good leader fights for his or her staff. I often have crazy ideas – I’m all for “failing fast” or finding success and learning from both. I always think about one that went all the way to our board. He fought for me all the way up. I saw him do that for my colleagues day-after-day. And because he had our back, we’ll always have his.

6. Be visible.

He would always say to be visible. Practice what you preach. Show your team what you want to see in them. If you can’t live to your standards, they’ll never buy in.

7. Stay calm.

We’re in communications. We deal with crises. When we’ve been in the trenches and urgency is pressing in, he has always been calm and resolute. Even if I would be under a lot of stress, he would calmly help me think through a solution.

8. Take risks.

I came to the organization when social media and digital was still a new thing to the organization. My role wasn’t in his background, so I would often ask him to take a risk and trust me. While I “failed fast” a few times, we certainly nailed it a lot. And we’re better because of it. I taught him a thing or two. And he taught me it’s OK to trust and leap.

9. Show kindness, even when people don’t deserve it.

I watched this one in awe. Sometimes people make stupid mistakes that can be costly to their career or their personal lives. My mentor had a fantastic way of addressing an issue; but made it a quiet, teachable moment for people. As I work through my career, I often take a step back and think how he would address it. I always see better results.

10. Be hands on, but hands off.

He would bring coffee, stuff bags for media drops or pick up trash. Not once did he complain. But he gave us the space to do our thing and produce results. So, we did. By being willing to get the job done, he earned the respect and loyalty of everyone who worked with him.

 

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2 comments

  1. I think he learned as much from you as you did from him.

    As a person who looks up to their boss, I know where you’re coming from. I hope you and the department finds an awesome replacement where new things are learned all around!

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