With the recent occurrences in our world, I felt compelled to write about the attributes of a true leader in any situation, whether it be in our family, at school, at work, social networks and other places where leadership can elevate or sabotage an event or situation.
In my years of management, I experienced empowering mentors and ineffective mentors. While the empowering mentors helped me grow, the ineffective ones also taught me a lot about growth in a different manner.
I will share a couple stories that bring out the qualities that make someone ineffective as a leader in an organization, and share other stories that create a spark in the consciousness that make people come alive in a work setting.
I was already a single mom in my 20’s, a budding manager,and excited to help people succeed. I knew I had a lot to learn and looked up to my superiors to teach me the ropes. What I quickly learned was that not all managers were effective.
Maureen (not her real name) was an experienced nurse in her prime years of care for patients. She partnered with another nurse and created a successful hospice service to patients experiencing end of life.
Maureen shared with me that the only reason she became a nurse was that she was forced by her parents to choose a profession and that it was mandatory that she attend a prestigious college. Her decision was to become a nurse because it was the shortest path to gaining a degree that her parents desired for her. This was Maureen’s path.
I attended my interview Maureen and her partner, complete with suit, pumps, and pad and paper for notes. I answered their questions and shared my experience. I liked the diversity of the two personalities and enjoyed the short conversation. I walked away from the interview not knowing if I was hired. Two days later, I received the call: “You’re hired.”
In my five years with this organization, I created better communication, scheduling practices, and earned the owners’ trust in running the organization in their absence. But, then the abuse arrived at my door like a thief in the night.
Maureen lived in a world of fear, hatred, and self-doubt. She was used to getting what she wanted no matter how unrealistic or painful it was for others around her. She stomped her feat, screamed, and slammed doors. This was her management style. The company’s turnover hovered around 75%. But, I was not a quitter.
I soon became known by my peers as the “whipping post” for everything that went wrong, even though I was not technically overseeing anything, except those I oversaw in a closely controlled, loosely described supervisory role. I knew this would be the case, but I was just learning and at the bottom rungs of my career. I could take a little abuse (I had already been there, I thought, with an abusive husband).
One day, Maureen, came to me and openly reversed on a principle that she made known to everyone in the organization. She told me to do something morally wrong that served her purpose to appear “large” in the eyes of a client, who was well-known in the community.
Humbly, I repeated her principle back to her and she came unglued. Big mistake on my part. Her arms began flailing in the air, her eyes on fire, feet stomping, and her voice raged like the fury of a mother jaguar. She came at me, all five feet of scrambled wildness to my five foot nine. She wrinkled her face, lunged up at me, and screamed for over five minutes. After a minute, it was like hearing the teacher in Charlie Brown cartoons: “wah, wah, wah, wah, wah.” Then…silence came. I drew in a deep breath and without a beat, calmly asked her if she was finished and said, ” Thank you, may I get back to work, now?”
Maureen spiraled around in a fit of flames, stomped to her office and flung the door shut, creating a jarring slam that I am convinced woke the dead. Nothing was resolved, and I was still sitting with a dilemma that could have lost us a very valuable account.
This was my first experience with a manager who had no respect for herself or others. She never took time to understand a person or situation before losing her true identity as a caring person (who was, sadly, lost). There is more to this story, but I digress and put this one on a shelf to tell you about an effective manager.
About ten years later, I was hired as a manager to an international organization that provided internal service to hospitals. I worked for seven years before making it to corporate management. Just prior to getting there, I was under the direction of a boss who looked out for people. He helped them become successful. He asked their opinions, offered engagement in processes. He valued the people who worked with him. He went by the name Garvey.
Garvey took time with me when I was frustrated that I could not get buy-in from the teams on some of my projects. He taught me about people and the importance of meeting them where they are. Further, he saw something in me that I knew, but never really took it to heart.
Garvey asked me, “Do you believe that leaders are created or born?” I truly believed that leaders could be both. I believed there were leaders who were ineffective – think Hitler – and those who empowered others -think Mother Teresa. Garvey and I got along quite well, and he became my professional mentor. He helped me learn how to take over his job. I came from the same school of thought – teach others to be at least as successful as me.
One day, I was called into Garvey’s conference room “office.” He traveled to multiple locations within the region. He said, “shut the door and lock it behind you, we are going to have a discussion.” Needless to say, I was very concerned. Very…
“Kat,” Garvey said, “I want you to know some things about your management style and what you do with your skills.” Now, I was seriously contemplating handing him a resignation. “You possess the skills of a leader that I have not seen in a long time.” As I wiped the sweat from my brow and shook my head, I felt myself looking around to see who he was talking to. I relaxed into the conversation.
Garvey was talking in a very serious manner. He had my attention. “You will be the next regional manager,” he said. I was speechless. The silence felt like hours. I gulped and responded, “But, Garvey, I have no formal degree, or any accounting background, or…”
“Stop,” he said. “Hear me out. You possess the qualities of a good leader. You’re not perfect, but you know it. You set a standard, hold people accountable, but teach them how to be successful. These are the signs of a true leader in my book.”
I nearly cried to hear these words, especially since I recalled the prior conversation when he informed me of his belief that leaders were born. He really believed that! So, I sucked up my “girliness” and choked back the tears. I began to feel my confidence rise with his words. I felt like I had real purpose in this huge company where employee’s ambitions easily became homogenized, for lack of solid managers to support them.
Later in the year, Garvey retired, and the next director called me into his office. He said the familiar words I learned about leadership, and I was promoted to the next regional manager -over thirteens states. My time with Garvey, and other effective mentors along the way, had been fruitful. I put in the work and it paid off.
Today, I have learned so many lessons: from others, and my own shortcomings, as well as the celebrated successes in life and business. I am now an empowered woman in her golden years, still leading with my love for people and helping them get to a place that brings empowerment to their own lives- a place of happiness and freedom. I am ever so grateful for the people like Maureen and Garvey who taught me so much about the person I’ve always wanted to be.
When we empower ourselves, we have completed our own basic need for attention, the need to feel validated or heard. We begin to see ourselves in others’ eyes, seeing our own places of opportunity while being grateful to be in the presence of these teachers in our lives.
Kat is a Professional Core Alignment Mentor who specializes in the art and science of NeuroLinguistic Programming and Emotional Wisdom Training.
She has helped many people realize their own potential, improve parenting, build confidence, respond more wisely to stress, and more.
Kat’s practice spans the globe for English-speaking people. Her passion is helping people awaken the light of wisdom within themselves to live a life of joy.