The attributes attributed to great leadership are frequently not written about. Instead, the focus is on their achievements, the profit they made, their adaptability, etc.
When we think of leaders, we often think about people who lead very publicly. However, the ones to whom we owe an outstanding debt are mostly the ones who appear in our lives at just the right moment- even though we cannot always see that until much, much later.
Take a moment to think back on the people who said something – even one sentence- that changed the path you were on. Think of someone who cared enough to stick around when everything in your life was falling apart. Think of the person who took the time to help you learn the “ropes” when you just started a job and there was no onboarding. Remember the person who stayed after a meeting to thank you for your insightful ideas.
When I was 13, I was introduced to a woman named Winnie Gilliford, a tennis teacher born with Spina Bifida. The doctors attending her birth told her mother to place her in a home and go home since she would certainly die.
The Experts Aren’t Always Right
Her mother, who must have been as spunky as her daughter became, ignored that advice and raised her to stand up to anyone or thing that conflicted with her values. She also raised her to stand up for others since the fight for her life (and one withered leg). Because of that struggle, she learned to be a warrior.
She was on the court teaching kids and adults, creating incredible hospitality, and making newcomers feel instant belonging by inviting them to play with those they had never met. Along the way, she dropped seeds of life lessons and encouragement as well as some solid values.
Lessons that Stick
I remember running into Winnie when I was a young mother and telling her that our youngest son needed heart surgery. He was only two years old.
That’s when she told me about her journey. Her parting words to me were: “Do not let anyone tell you what you can’t do.”
Her words came back to me through complications, three days in Cardiac Intensive Care, and thirty more days fighting an infection. He survived.
Her lessons still come back to me now and then.
She wasn’t famous, but she was a leader – a spectacular one and one I will never forget.
Those who help form us are the listeners, the carers, the opportunity noticers, and the ones taking the time to see and share our strengths. These qualities are also the ones of great leaders who, even if they have responsibility for many, train their teams to learn these skills, so everyone prospers.
Who were the leaders for you, and what lessons did they leave that you still remember and treasure?