In Part One of this blog article, well-known leaders describe memories about those leaders who made a difference in their lives. Part Two below shares three more luminaries’ stories.
Leaders have our back. Leaders are on our side. When others try to undermine our confidence or question our motives, leaders stand with us. They don’t leave us hanging when the going gets tough. As a result, we develop more backbone and leadership skills, and learn the value of standing by others.
Kevin Eikenberry, Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group, and author of Remarkable Leadership: Unleashing Your Leadership Potential One Skill at a Time, cites has father, Phil Eikenberry, as the leader who always had his back. Phil was also Kevin’s first boss.
The biggest lesson Kevin learned? When we believe in those we lead, and show them so through our actions, we make a lasting difference. For example, customers were informed that if they received answers from Kevin, those answers were final. People couldn’t bypass Kevin to get a different answer from his dad. If they did, the first question his dad always asked was, “What did Kevin say?” His father set an example that Kevin tries to uphold and teach every day.
Leaders trust us. Leaders foster our growth by entrusting us to take on real and consequential challenges. Leaders know that engagement and motivation is highest when people are assigned big gulp challenges where the risks of failure are real, but where failure is not an option. Because they entrust us with the tough stuff, we set out to do a good job for them.
In Leaders Open Doors, Elaine Biech, author of more than 50 books, shares how she was hired by NASA to design a management training program. But it wasn’t just any run-of-the-mill, stand-up training session. The training was going to be used as the basis for the first video teleconference prototype beamed to all of the NASA sites around the country.
Elaine credits Bill Williams, Personnel Director for NASA Langley Research Center, for entrusting her—an unknown farm girl from Wisconsin—with this substantial challenge. His trust in her to design and deliver a training program for an untested medium was exhilarating—what Elaine called her personal “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Liftoff!” This led her to do the kind of work that continues to fuel her passion: writing, creating, and developing others. She explains: “Believing in someone is the most valuable gift you can give another.”
Leaders let us learn. Leaders don’t impose their will on ours. They know that good judgment is the result of experience, and experience is the dividend of bad judgment. When necessary for our learning, and for the development of our better judgment, they let us scrape our knees. They offer their counsel and let us decide whether or not to follow it.
Chip Bell is Founder and Senior Partner of the Chip Bell Group and author of more than 20 books, including Managers as Mentors (co-authored with Marshall Goldsmith). When Chip was a new training director for a large bank, he started a search for an assistant training director. The candidate that caught his attention had been a supervisory trainer in the Coast Guard and—this is the part that really impressed Chip—had gotten his master’s degree at a prestigious Ivy League college. Chip was eager to make him an offer, hoping to do so at the end of the day of interviews. But Chip’s boss, who had been a recruiter for a large manufacturing company before joining the bank, had big reservations, explaining: “I think he’s all hat and no cows!”
Rather than impose his will on Chip, he left the decision to Chip. Still enamored by the guy’s Ivy League pedigree, Chip hired the guy. But six months later he ended up firing him. Chip’s boss Chuck was right— the guy was all talk and no results. Importantly, Chip’s boss never said a word about his bad decision. Chip recalls, “It was a powerful lesson I have never forgotten—the worth of profound learning more than outweighs an occasional error.”
You can read the full versions of these stories, along with others from Ken Blanchard, Jim Kouzes, and Verne Harnish, in the epilogue of Leaders Open Doors.