The most influential lesson I have learned regarding leadership was modeled by my mother. It is a not a lesson that was imparted only one occasion, nor was it one that I could truly understand until I was older, but through her example, I discovered that integrity is an integral part of leadership.
Growing up I always knew my mother was different from those of my peers. She didn’t dress in the casual jeans and t-shirt; she was never waiting to pick me up at the bus stop after school; and she was often absent from the many mid-day programs that my classes would perform for parents. During my elementary and middle school years, she was employed as a Vice President for a large corporation.
Although I admire my mother for her success, I respect her more for the example she set for my sister and I. Her position as a corporate leader not only contributed to our family’s financial security, but also provided us with a loving community of surrogate aunts and uncles who worked with my mother. I believe that my mother’s ability to maintain positive relationships with her co-workers, while successfully advancing in her career is evidence of her integrity as a leader.
The conclusion of her career at her company is a testament to her loyalty to the people she worked with and her commitment to upholding her own values. Just before her 25th anniversary at the company, she was assigned the task of laying off or demoting a large number of her sales team. Unwilling to let go the people who had been loyal employees in order to accommodate a new management team, she was ‘encouraged’ to retire early to make room for people who would complete the task.
It is commonly understood that it is necessary to compete in order to attain a position of power. When people refer to a “dog eat dog world”, it is difficult to believe that you can do well without compromising your values along the way. What my mother taught me in her twenty-five year business career, and the circumstances of its eventual conclusion, is that staying true to your ideals is the measure of success.