The Lasting Impact of Exceptional Leadership

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“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

This quote by the late Maya Angelou is one that I come back to time, and again, when I am speaking on customer experience, sales, training, or many other areas where success boils down to how well humans interact with one another. Above all, though, I believe that Angelou's thought is foundational to successful leadership, which helps explain its vast applicability. When I think about the leaders who have made a difference in my life, I realize their lasting impact is largely a result of how they made me feel, in general as well as in specific, challenging situations.

Over time, I have forgotten the details of the jobs I held when working for the best leaders, but I have not forgotten their behaviors and the interactions with them that created strong, positive feelings. There’s one leader, in particular, let’s call him Matt Drexler, who I am going to use as an example in this post. The way Matt led made such an impression on me, that it became the model for how I wish to serve and lead. To put it in perspective, I was on that team nearly a decade ago but I still clearly remember several examples of his leadership and how I felt as a result of it. How’s that for lasting impact?

Leaders who act in the ways I list below create cultures in which people can thrive. Better yet, by creating strong, positive feelings in their interactions with followers, leaders like Matt become unforgettable. They can continue to influence followers for years or, in some cases, a lifetime. If you want to lead in a way that drives high performance, creates fierce loyalty, and makes a lasting impact, take the following examples to heart.

Remove Obstacles  

In situations where I needed guidance, I’d call Matt, my boss at the time, and after we greeted each other, he'd say: “What can I do to help you, Anita?” It didn’t sound contrived as it reads here on your screen, I promise. Matt was completely sincere in asking the question. He truly wanted to know what he could do for me, which was pretty unusual, if not downright shocking.

He’d listen patiently and carefully as I explained the challenge with my own special brand of dramatic flair. Then, he’d go do whatever it took to resolve my issue. When Matt would call back and explain how he'd resolved the challenge, I would, of course, thank him – repeatedly. His standard and humble response is one that I now use almost daily: “Of course, that’s what I am here for. Let me know if you need anything else.” He truly believed this and he meant every word, just as I do today.

How this leader behaved made me feel completely supported and valued which, consequently, created in me a fierce sense of loyalty. I appreciated his approach so much that I adopted it almost immediately. To this day, I find myself asking people what I can do to help them and, then, I do it. It’s very important to me that my clients and the teams I support feel exactly how I did when I hung up the phone with Matt: supported, appreciated and valued.

Trust and Protect 

At one point while working on Matt's team, I found myself in a political quagmire and made the tough decision to “do the maya feel skyFBright thing” which, unfortunately, was neither the popular, nor the most profitable thing. Well, it didn’t go over so well and a couple of individuals began trying to discredit me and, ironically, called my integrity into question. Needless to say, I was outraged with the Romper Room-ish scenario I found myself in.

I called Matt and explained the situation to him before he heard it from anyone else. True to Angelou's words, I don't remember exactly what he said when I finished my explanation, so I’ll paraphrase: “Anita, no one, including me, is questioning your decision. I trust you and you need to stop questioning yourself on this. You are fine and I’ll make sure everyone else is, too.”

With just those few sentences, he pulled me out of the corporate quicksand. I felt validated, trusted and protected. I was safe and knowing that empowered me to continue making difficult decisions that, ultimately, benefitted the organization. I worked even harder and smarter to make sure that I didn’t do anything to let Matt down or lose his trust in me. No way was I going to let that happen. Today, I know that you must trust and protect your people and, when you do, most of them will honor that trust and meet or exceed your expectations. I haven’t been let down, yet.

Create Accountability to the Team 

Matt’s team, the highest performing and most fun team I ever worked on, didn’t come about by the tap of a Corporate Fairy Godmother’s wand. The leader created it to be so and it began with establishing accountability to the team.

If there was an area where someone lacked expertise or just needed help, Matt fully expected a teammate to step in and assist. We quickly caught on that our leader placed a high value on collaboration and expected us to have a strong sense of accountability to one another. Through the various forms of collaboration and lending a helping hand, we came to genuinely care about one another’s success and we had each other’s back in just about any situation.

Being on this team made us all feel valued for our individual expertise and appreciated for our willingness to help others grow. The extent of my loyalty to the team and its leader has yet to be matched in my career. Matt fostered an “all for one, one for all” mindset that helped him, the team and the organization achieve success that would otherwise have been impossible.

The best leaders are highly deliberate in their actions and behaviors ensuring their people feel valued, trusted, and protected. They focus on creating these types of positive feelings in each of their interactions. These emotions aren't easily forgotten, so the impact a strong leader has can go far beyond a single job or time period, it can span a decade, a career or, maybe, a lifetime. As leaders, there is precious little that is as valuable as the legacy we create from our lasting positive impact on those we serve.

*Image (background) by Tamila via www.goodfon.su

By: Anita Nielsen

Anita Nielsen is the Owner of LDK Advisory Services, LLC., a consulting firm providing clients with advisory support with B2B Sales Effectiveness, Sales Transformation, Sales Training & Development as well as One on One Leadership and Sales Coaching services. Anita is a Sales Enablement Thought Leader with deep expertise and trench experience in Sales and Sales Support. She is a new Mompreneur, a lifelong learner and a pretty good cook, too. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband and their 9 year-old daughter and 7 year-old son.

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