(This article is dedicated to: Doug Brooks, Charles DeFoucault, Carter Donovan, Jim McManemon, Diana Oreck, Theo Gilbert-Jamison, Angela Hornsby and Horst Schulze)
The best leaders are lifters. Plain and simple. They know how to lift the hearts, hopes, esteem and performance of their staff. If you are my leader, then my life should be better somehow. There should be something amplified about me in a positive way, as a result of being on your team. You should challenge me and encourage me. You should insist that I do my absolute best, always. Nothing less will suffice. With you, I know that there are additional levels of excellence for me to achieve. As a result of being on your team, I will learn that excellence is not a destination, but an ongoing journey. I will learn to appreciate where I am, but imagine where I can be.
Even when leaders are tired, they never allow themselves to tolerate mediocrity. Ever. They never allow common excuses to lessen their expectations. In their hearts, they know that excuses like “young people don’t work hard” and “it’s hard to find good people in this area” cannot be accepted.
Sometimes, even the best employees have their off days (or weeks…or months). Those periods when the focus isn’t there and they allow their mood to dictate their performance. I was no exception. One day, I was in charge of leading a team of banquet servers to set up a room for a large dinner function. It was not done proficiently or neatly. I accepted subpar work from my team, and from myself. My manager immediately noticed the poor work, and pulled me to the side. His words have stuck with me. “This caliber of work that I see today is far beneath you. This is not what I’ve come to expect from a professional such as yourself. You are a better man than this.” Then, he walked away. That was the type of wake-up call I needed at that point in my career. With his comments, that leader reminded me that work ought to be done professionally and thoroughly or not at all. At the very least, I was taught to be uncomfortable with subpar work. It should bother me, deeply. To the point where I simply can not stand anything other than excellence.
For that, I am eternally inspired and forever grateful. I would not have achieved what I have been blessed to achieve had it not been for countless leaders who mentored, coached and advocated for me. I would not be here if they did not provide endless opportunities for me…when they didn’t have to. From a line employee washing dishes to a corporate director overseeing training, I have been blessed with phenomenal leaders who I’ve disappointed, yet they still believed in me. They still pushed me. I only hope that my contributions have left a positive mark on their lives as well.
Responsibility as a Leader
As a leader, please know that you have the unique opportunity to shape both the professional and personal path of those on your team…and even those around you. Take your leadership responsibility seriously. In many ways you are a steward; entrusted with those under your guidance.
To all the leaders who have molded and inspired me, thank you. Thank you for the privilege of adopting me and allowing me to grow.