This morning, a young lawyer seeking mentorship, asked me about working with some of the world's largest companies and brands. I happily answered Amanda's questions, sometimes throwing in a few pithy proverbs. Then she asked, "Who are the best leaders you've worked with, and why?" My pause was so long; she'd thought the line died. Not that I couldn't list the best leaders. I hesitated because I see a common theme with all those leaders, whether a CEO, department head, project lead, or manager – and often, I haven't shown those same qualities. The best leaders never surrounded themselves with "yes men." They got out of their comfort zones and surrounded themselves with people of diverse perspectives who could disagree with them without fear of being labeled – or worse. The most innovative leaders listened and were experts at making everyone on their teams feel safe to speak up. The best CEOs had a deep thirst for knowledge and always looked to challenge their thinking through the lens of others. The most productive groups were those where the leaders encouraged cross-training. The most success came when, from top-down, leaders required focus but banished the "stay in your lane" mantra. I've lived fierce loyalty to the leaders who expected excellence but also had their team's back when those teams tried but failed. The best leaders built relationships that felt safe and connected, like a family that some of us have, and others always wanted. When that kind of leadership happens, companies succeed. Even in the toughest of times.
So thank you, Amanda. The teacher became the student. I'm shutting my computer down now. I'll dust off that cookbook on the top shelf and prep dinner (way outside my comfort zone). Then I'll pour my husband a glass of the good wine I've been rationing. I'll get my kids off their online school for board game night. And I will listen.