The Lives We Touch as Leaders

The Lives We Touch as Leaders

January 14, 2015

Amid all of the holiday festivities last month, I attended two retirement parties for individuals at two different companies where I used to work.  I was deeply honored to be invited to both events, and these experiences triggered some reflections about the people that we work with and the lives that we impact as leaders.

The first retirement party was for a woman—“Terry”—who I hired over 20 years ago.  Having begun her career as an administrative assistant in the company, she entered the department as a manager.  Although she had little formal training or experience, she possessed a great deal of potential, and this job established a new trajectory for her career.  She went on to become a vice president at the company. At her retirement party, I was proud to see such a poised and polished professional with so many people paying her tribute.

After the event, I had a chance to reflect on the following leadership qualities that Terry possessed:

  • Generosity of Spirit—The attendees at the retirement party universally remarked on Terry’s grace and compassion in all of her relationships. Her willingness to help others and her capacity to make those around her shine—even if it meant personal sacrifice—was truly evident.   Her servant leadership style clearly touched everyone she worked with from the administrative assistant to the CEO.
  • Learning Agility— Although she did not have a lot of formal education, Terry had the drive, the attitude, and the learning agility to handle any task. She was willing to do whatever it takes and had the business maturity to be effective. Her ability to take on new projects and ever-expanding, challenging assignments was a key to her success. Even though many terrific bosses nurtured and supported Terry’s development over the course of her career, Terry’s innate ability to try new approaches and the resilience to overcome the inevitable setbacks was truly remarkable.
  • Organizational Savvy—Each organization has its own culture and knowing how to navigate the organization is vital for success as a leader. Terry possessed that skill—perhaps even more than her superiors—and knew how to thrive in a fast-paced environment despite many changes in leadership and multiple re-organizations over the years. With each new boss, Terry re-dedicated her commitment and became a loyal member of the team.

The second retirement party was for a senior-level executive—“Rick”—who was a colleague and friend during my tenure at the company. Rick was a truly authentic leader—down-to-earth and no-nonsense—with little patience for falsehoods or phoniness.  It was always a privilege to work with Rick and his team because you always knew where you stood, and, as long as you delivered on your promises, Rick would have your back.

At Rick’s retirement party, I reflected on these leadership competencies:

  • Trust—With Rick, what you saw was what you got, and you could trust that what he said was what he truly believed. This trust created a deep sense of loyalty from the people that worked with him. At the retirement party, this loyalty was clearly felt from all the members of his team.
  • Ethics and Integrity—Rick could tell if an individual was just currying the favor of the boss. He treated everyone with the same respect and regard no matter what the position. His high degree of integrity allowed others—both inside and outside the company—to be honest and open as well.
  • Results-Oriented—Whether the job required traveling cross-country to turn a project around or finding a way to trim costs in a budget without sacrificing quality, Rick found a way to accomplish the goal. He was a leader who understood what it took to get the job done and knew that it was important to live the values and behavior that he wanted others to follow.  As a role model, he earned the respect of others.

Both Terry and Rick touched my life as well as many others with whom they worked.  I am often humbled by the extraordinary leaders who thrive in fast-paced, changing organizations. They positively affect our level of engagement and our willingness to devote our discretionary efforts to achieve the business’ goals.  These two individuals exemplify the significant impact that leaders have on others in the organization and the lasting influence they have on our lives.

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