Six Leaders, Six Lessons
What I learned from the best.
According to Harvard Business Review’s Understanding Leadership, a leader is defined as “one who can understand people’s motivations and enlist employee participation in a way that marries individual needs and interests to the group’s purpose.”
Leaders utilize their knowledge and character to launch their careers. They propel the paths of those they work with by teaching them valuable lessons. Throughout my career path, I have been fortunate to learn from incredible leaders.
1. Find the diamond in the rough
One of my former managers was in his early thirties, a Stanford graduate, and already very senior at the company. He was raking in seven-plus figures, annually. One day, he offered me a piece of advice I will never forget. He told me to find the diamond in the rough.
When he joined our firm, he took on the piece of business no one wanted to touch. The path to make this part of the business was a challenging one, but he figured out how to make it a money-making success. He was able to mold the business into a diamond when no one else saw its potential.
My manager taught me how finding the diamond in the rough and blowing it up can help you make a huge impact. I have incorporated his advice into my own positions and raked in the rewards.
“The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” — Chinese proverb
2. The power of active listening — to remember and recall
I once temped at a company with nearly 5,000 associates and less than 10 executives. As I wanted to join the organization, I reached out to one of the executives and requested a meeting. In my cover letter, I mentioned I swam with dolphins. My goal was to include a personal touch to highlight my adventurous spirit.
This executive honored my request to meet. He made no promises, but he moved me into the company’s Corporate Communications department, an area I wanted to permeate. Eventually, I was able to secure a position.
Several years later, I ran into this executive at a charity event hosted by our company. We chatted for a few minutes, and he told me he was planning a vacation with his family. That’s when he mentioned he was looking into swimming with dolphins and asked for my advice.
I was floored. He could have inquired on general travel tips. Everyone knew I have a passion for travel. Instead, he zoned into one specific detail from years ago. He remembered. When I answered him, my eyes sparkled and a smile danced upon my lips.
This executive taught me how listening, paying attention, and remembering minute details can truly impact a person. Leaders lead by elevating others.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Mary Angelou
3. One Team
Harvard Business Review’s The Power of Hidden Teams states, “To feel like you’re part of a team doesn’t require you to be oriented to the company [culture]. Instead, it depends on whether your team leader and your teammates show up every day, talk to you, lean [into] you, and support you.
Your experience of your team drives many things: how productive you are at work; how happy you are at work; how creative, innovative, and resilient you are; and how long you choose to stay with your company. [When] it comes to your work, great teams and teamwork aren’t a nice-to-have; they’re a must-have.”
My former regional director understood this concept well.
Our regional director facilitated a “One Team” approach. He was well respected, and his vision carried throughout the region. His positive attitude, support, and leadership style trickled into our daily business practices, which ensured our success.
I am a contractor for my current company, which is technically my client. The first company I contracted through was one of my client’s vendors.
Although I was a vendor, I have always been treated as part of the team, along with other contractors who are vendors. Our regional director’s “One Team” approach is what made me and other contractors team members instead of outsiders.
Conflicts between teammates were easy to resolve because of our regional director’s “One Team” adage. Even when personalities clashed or opinions varied, teammates remembered they had the same goal, to move the business forward.
The “One Team” motto was a gentle reminder for everyone to work together, regardless of differences, to accomplish what’s best.
My regional director taught me how a “One Team” mentality is paramount in bringing people together to achieve success. Go, team!
“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” — Phil Jackson
4. Never scale back
When I lived in Florida, I volunteered at a charity established by my company’s founder. I was fortunate to work closely with the charity’s Board of Director’s president, who was also one of my company’s trustees.
At one of our volunteer meetings, we discussed a past event. We talked about what worked and what we could do better in the future. One of the volunteers suggested scaling back on the cost of food for volunteers.
At our event, we had food trucks. Each volunteer was given $10 to spend on lunch. We could have spent a lot less by ordering pizzas. This is what the volunteer proposed.
After many agreed, the president disagreed. He said although the intention of saving money was thoughtful, we could not lessen what we gave. Since we started with $10 for lunch, we would continue with $10. The few dollars saved were not worth the sour taste volunteers would experience. He advised we could give the same or more, but never diminish what was expected.
The president taught me never to scale back. Treating people well is worth more than a few pennies.
“The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.” — Tony Blair
5. Leaders assist their team
While living in Florida, I was invited to a private dinner party of 10 aboard our company’s yacht. Our founder’s widow hosted the event. A few of my charity’s leadership members and volunteers were also there.
At first, we all talked outside on the deck, cocktails in hand. The crew brought us delicious Hors D’oeuvres to munch on. Eventually, we moved inside and continued our discussions.
I was engaged in conversation with our hostess. We had both been to Alaska, and we were talking about our adventures. Dinner would be served momentarily. However, the crew was running behind with the dirty glasses around the room. Our hostess jumped in and started clearing the glasses with them. I also helped.
Even though we were both guests and she was at the highest level of the organization, she helped her staff when they needed assistance. I was impressed and loved that I witnessed this side of her. She helped keep the crew on track.
My company’s founder’s widow taught me no matter how wealthy or prominent one is, kindness goes a long way. Leaders are ready to get their hands dirty when their worker bees need support.
“Remember the difference between a boss and a leader; a boss says, “Go!” a leader says, “Let’s go!” — E.M. Kelly
6. We are all important, regardless of titles
At a former company, I assisted with events. On a business trip to our Canadian office, I flew with the president, FA, and a few others. One of our Canadian vice presidents picked us up at the hangar.
Our Canadian office had recently hired a new receptionist. While driving, our president inquired about the receptionist. He wanted to know what her name was, how she was doing, and what her story was. He was genuinely interested in learning a little more about her.
When we arrived, we were greeted by the receptionist. The president welcomed her to our company and talked with her for a few minutes. As he had already been briefed on her, he was well prepared to have an engaging conversation with her. I am sure she was on cloud nine.
Our president taught me how everyone matters, regardless of title or position. I was impressed by his genuine interest in learning about every single person working at his company. I also realized he probably had all the goods on me long before we met!
“Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flow charts; it is about one life influencing another.” — Unknown
Leaders lead by giving back
Leaders give more than they take. They empower their team. Leaders listen and remember details. They are curious about the people who work for them.
Leaders make their team feel special, appreciated, and respected. They share the lessons they have learned to become accomplished.
When one is in the presence of an authentic leader, he/she wants to give his/her all. Leaders inspire their team members to be the best version of themselves. A true leader leads a successful team.
“Leaders become great not because of their power but, because of their ability to empower others.” — John Maxwell
Gina Pacelli is a digital marketing consultant. For fun, she loves to travel, volunteer, write and spend time with family/friends. She has a bachelor's from Syracuse University and is working on a marketing management certificate through Harvard.