Leading the way... the Mary Kay way...

How do I define LEADERSHIP? by Jeff McPheeters

[from a newsletter article I had composed more than seven years ago]

"How do you define 'LEADERSHIP,'" she asked me!

Priscilla and I were in having a discussion about leadership qualities and I had pointed out that I didn't particularly think that F.A.T. (Faithful, Available, and Teachable) consultants would automatically make good leaders. I qualified that statement by saying that I did think it indicates a good follower and that all good leaders must first be good followers! Why? Because, they would also need to CONTINUE to be good followers, looking to others in higher leadership positions in order to continue to grow and develop their leadership skills. The business of leadership, particularly servant leadership, assumes the leader is faithful, available, and teachable CONTINUALLY. But it's not what I consider to be a DISTINGUISHING characteristic of true leaders. Thus, the question was asked ...and I had to come up with an answer.

"Leaders, left to themselves, regularly make choices that inconvenience themselves, and even those closest to them, in the short term, in order to achieve something in the long term of far greater benefit to themselves, to those around them, and even to others whom they may not have met and, perhaps, may never meet."

My son, Isaac, would say "They look to a higher reward."

I can also tell you, that if you wait for leaders to emerge, you will take a long time to accomplish your purpose as a Director in Mary Kay: that of recruiting and training and developing the future leaders of this company. You may find one now and then, but leaders are made, not born, and you can become a molder of leaders. To the degree that you learn to mold leaders, you will experience the incredible satisfaction as well as the financial rewards that Mary Kay has to offer.

Excellence, not Control...

As I look back over my life, I am very grateful to my father and my grandparents who taught me leadership not only by their examples, but also through sometimes rigorous participatory exercises. That's a fancy way of saying that they purposefully put me in difficult situations that taught me lessons necessary to becoming an effective leader. My impression as a young boy was that my parents were not interested in me becoming a clone of themselves. Neither were my grandparents. When I'd ask my Dad what I should do about such and such a decision he'd routinely look me in the eye and say something to the effect, "You have to make that decision. I can't make it for you." I'd feel somewhat let down, and then I'd make the decision. But here's the kicker... my Dad would then critique my decisions! He'd point out where I could have done better, what consequences I had overlooked, and he helped me to understand the dynamics of the decisions I was making now and how they would affect the future. If I made poor decisions, I had to bear the consequences. It wasn't very pleasant at times. But there were many good times when I received the rewards for doing well, knowing that I had done it myself and no one did it for me.

Reflecting back I realize now, though I didn't appreciate it at the time, that my Dad, and his father before him, were not Control Freaks. They were Excellence Freaks. As a father of three boys, I have to constantly remind myself that there's a difference and I find it's easy to err on the side of trying to control, rather than lead.

Just as a defining attribute of a Leader is their willingness to make sacrifices short term for greater gains long term, a defining attribute of a molder of leaders is their unwavering commitment to excellence WITH THE UNDERSTANDING that it's not about being in control, but about being BOTH an example and a willing student of EXCELLENCE. You will not only need to give your future leaders room to grow, but you will also want to give them freedom to make mistakes. When they do make mistakes, you must not shirk from your duty to gently coach them and sometimes confront them with loving but firm counsel. They need to understand the choices they make now have lasting consequences and they need to learn as quickly as they are willing and able, assuming they have the qualities of a future leader and molder of leaders, that the greater reward is worth the short term inconveniences.
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