During a recent lull in my MBA studies I decided to begin a Certificate in Nonprofit Management. My attention is increasingly pulled in that direction so why not? There is always more to learn, right? Okay, I am either really ambitious, a glutton for punishment or both. But, I digress.
One of the nonprofit classes gave me a moment of pause. It was a leadership class, designed to highlight the trademarks of effective nonprofit leaders. The course was fascinating, pulling on well-known academic theory and practical real-world examples, ranging from Gandhi to Margaret Thatcher and everyone in between. But, academic study and researched theory is useless without application. To know a leader you have to catch one in the act.
When I was 25 or 26 I embarked on career #2 (the transition to #3 is in process; I will let you know how it goes). After spending years in the hospitality industry I knew it was time to move on. I just did not know to where. At the time my Mother was working in staffing and put me in touch with an opportunity; an opportunity that had no connection with my interests, education or experience. But, life has taught better than to argue with my Mother, who often knows better than I, so to the interview I went.
And that is where I met “Pamela”, the hiring manager who would become my Director of Sales, friend and real-life example of a true and authentic leader. She offered me the position that day and I accepted within the hour. After a two-hour meeting it was intuitively clear. I did not care what she was selling; I wanted to work for that woman. And so I did, embarking on a job opportunity that would enable me, these several years later, to move towards my true work. I forever remain grateful to her for her demonstration of authentic leadership; not management, mind you, but leadership.
So what made Pamela stand out? What set her apart and promoted fierce loyalty among her staff and colleagues? After careful consideration, I think I have come up with three admittedly non-academic ideas, based on my simple experience.
1. Enthusiasm: Pamela was not anymore connected to the widgets we were selling than I was, but she loved the challenge and the dance of the sales game. She was an experienced professional and had energy that reverberated around the office. Her team was a fun place to be and her enthusiasm was contagious.
2. People focused: When you went in to Pam’s office she would spend the first 30 minutes or so asking about your parents, dreams, boyfriend, lack there of, energy levels, religious views, you name it. Tasks and goals took a back seat to her concern and interest in her staff. She did not do this because she read about it in a management book or thought it was expected of her. It was just who she was. She was genuinely interested in people; a trait becoming of a Sales Executive. Ever met a salesperson that doesn’t like people? I have and it’s pretty scary.
3. Readymade mentor: Pamela loved to teach. She loved to teach about sales, life, and humanity. She would take anyone who needed advice or guidance under her wing. In a “me” world, true mentors, earnest teachers, are an endangered species. The willingness to freely give what you know to the next generation is an art.
It has been several years since Pamela and I worked together. Long before I left the organization, to pursue my dream of working in the environmental nonprofit sector, Pamela left. She left the company, but not my life, and she is my mentor still. We do not talk often, but when we do, we pick right up, and I know that I can seek her advice, no matter where this fun adventure might lead. Her leadership, comprised of energy, genuine concern and a willingness to teach, has her forever on my “best people” list.