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The Power of an Unlikely LeaderDoug Dickerson Salem-News.com
The Management Moments series by Doug Dickerson is a weekly column designed to bring inspiration to those in the workplace and beyond.
(CHARLESTON, S.C.) - The story is told a successful beauty product company that asked the people in a large city to send pictures with brief letters about the most beautiful women they knew. Within a few weeks thousands of letters were delivered to the company.
One letter in particular caught the attention of the employees and soon it was handed to the company president. The letter was written by a young boy who was obviously from a broken home, living in a run-down neighborhood.
With spelling corrections, an excerpt from his letter read, “A beautiful woman lives down the street from me. I visit her everyday. She makes me feel like the most important kid in the world. We play checkers and she listens to my problems. She understands me and when I leave she yells out the door that she’s proud of me.”
The boy ended his letter saying, “This picture shows you that she is the most beautiful woman. I hope I have a wife as pretty as her.” Intrigued by the letter, the president asked to see this woman’s picture.
His secretary handed him a photograph of a smiling, toothless woman, well-advanced in years, sitting in a wheelchair. Sparse gray hair was pulled back in a bun and wrinkles that formed deep furrows on her face were somehow diminished by the twinkle in her eyes.
“We can’t use this woman”, explained the president, smiling. “She would show the world that our products aren’t necessary to be beautiful.”
The story illustrates a basic leadership principle, titles don’t make leaders and leaders don’t always have titles.
Unlikely leaders can be found all around us and they are not always the ones with the corner office. The lady in the story teaches us basic leadership principles as we look at unlikely leaders.
First, leaders make others feel important. The woman may not have realized the power of her sway on the young boy, but her influence made a world of difference to him. The power of an unlikely leader is measured not by how you put others down, but in how well you lift them up. The power of an unlikely leader is found not when you try to persuade others to be impressed with you, but when you show genuine interest in them.
Secondly, leaders take time to listen. A good leader knows how to communicate effectively with others. Effective communication includes listening. Kenneth Wells observed, “A good listener tries to understand thoroughly what the other person is saying. In the end he may disagree sharply, but before he disagrees, he wants to know exactly what it is he is disagreeing with.” A good leader listens.
Third, leaders encourage those around them. Successful leaders know how to encourage others. At the end of the day people around you want to feel valued and appreciated.
In describing what makes a great baseball manager, Reggie Jackson said that “a great manager has a knack for making ball players think they are better than they think they are. He forces you to have a good opinion of yourself. He lets you know he believes in you. He makes you get more out of yourself. And once you learn how good you really are, you never settle for playing anything less than your best.”
The woman in the story may not have been the most beautiful person in that city, but she possessed something more valuable. You may not be the one with the big title in your organization, but yours is the leadership that inspires others.
Take a look around. Unlikely leaders look a lot like you and I.
Doug Dickerson is the former editor of the Berkeley Independent newspaper in South Carolina and is currently the director of university relations at Charleston Southern University. 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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