Wednesday June 19, 2013
The Legacy of LeadershipDoug Dickerson Salem-News.com
How will your legacy be defined?
(CHARLESTON, S.C.) - From an article in Bits and Pieces some years back comes an inspiring story. Years ago, a John Hopkins professor gave a group of graduate students this assignment: Go to the slums. Take 200 boys, between the ages of 12 and 16, and investigate their background and environment. Then predict their chances for the future.
The students, after consulting social statistics, talking to the boys, and compiling much data, concluded that 90 percent of the boys would spend some time in jail.
Twenty-five years later another group of graduate students was given the job of testing the prediction. They went back to the same area. Some of the boys - by then men - were still there, a few had died, some had moved away, but they got in touch with 180 of the original 200. They found that only four of the group had ever been sent to jail.
Why was it that these men, who had lived in a breeding place of crime, had such a surprisingly good record? The researchers were continually told: "Well, there was a teacher..."
They pressed further, and found that in 75 percent of the cases it was the same woman. The researchers went to this teacher, now living in a home for retired teachers. How had she exerted this remarkable influence over that group of children? Could she give them any reason why these boys should have remembered her?
"No," she said, "no I really couldn't." And then, thinking back over the years, she said amusingly, more to herself than to her questioners: "I loved those boys..."
How fortunate the men had a teacher who loved them and because of her influence now live productive lives. If you think for a moment I am sure you can recall a teacher, coach, or mentor that had an impact on your life that helped guide you to where you are today.
Tim Elmore said, “Mentoring is a relational experience through which one person empowers another by sharing their wisdom and resources.” The sharing of resources, much like that of the above-mentioned teacher, is carried out through relationships with those you lead. Consider these simple but powerful characteristics of her leadership and how she left her legacy.
The teacher accepted her students. In Life 101, Peter McWilliams said, “Acceptance is such an important commodity; some have called it “the first law of personal growth’”. No doubt her students had already been labeled by others as underachievers or trouble-makers, with few seeing any potential in them.
The teacher disregarded the stereotypes about the boys and accepted them not only for who they were but what they could become.
As you mentor those in your organization it is important that you do so with an expectation that the best is yet to come. Where a person has come from is not nearly as important as where you are leading them. Accepting the people you mentor is the first step in impacting their lives.
The teacher believed in her students. Chosen out of the slums and placed in a statistical category of perceived outcomes; these boys faced insurmountable obstacles. Yet their destiny was changed, not by perceptions, but because a teacher believed in them.
Mark Twain said, “Keep away from people who belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” As a leader, your success as a mentor comes as you instill hope in the hearts of those you lead. When you believe in those you mentor, they will know it and will respond to it.
It’s hard to say where the boys would have ended up without a teacher who believed in them, but as John A. Shedd said, “Opportunities are seldom labeled." You will leave your legacy as a leader when you have faith in those you lead.
The teacher cared for her students. When approached about the boys she had taught in those early years, she simply recalled that she loved them. It was just that simple.
John Maxwell said, “Loving people precedes leading them. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” While tempting to measure success by the bottom line, true leaders understand it is defined differently.
Aesop said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Your legacy as a leader is marked by the time, wisdom, passion, and kindness that you invested into the lives you touched.
How will your legacy be defined?
Doug Dickerson is the former editor of the Berkeley Independent newspaper in South Carolina. Doug’s writing has been recognized by the South Carolina Press Association, having won awards for enterprise reporting, series of articles, and for humor column writing.
Doug’s passion for communicating leadership principles and personal development is crystallized through his Management Moment column and leadership columns he writes. Read more of Doug’s columns on his blog at dougsmanagementmoment.blogspot.com
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