Leadership Legacy

There’s a 1980’s country song called “Lookin’ for Love” (most remembered from the movie Urban Cowboy) that includes this repeated lyric: “Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places.” Most of you have heard this song, and I think it has lots of application to leadership – specifically, that we’re often looking for leadership in all the wrong places. We look in board rooms, big offices and organization charts. We look at titles, roles and positions. The truth of leadership – the location of leadership – is in the heart, and the measure of leadership is in the impact we have on people and organizations.

This became so clear to me this past Monday when my Mom passed away. I never thought of my Mom as a leader – she didn’t fit the traditional role or “picture” and she wasn’t even a head of household type leader – but her impact on people was on full display in her final days.

I got the call last Sunday morning that Mom’s health had taken a serious downward turn, so I dropped what I was doing, left my weekend getaway with friends, and headed to Dayton to be with her and my family. My sister was also called and was able to get to Dayton (from Florida) in one day, so all three siblings – Lisa, Brad and me (and sister-in-law Becky) – were with Mom on Sunday and with her on Monday morning when she took her last breath. What we experienced over that short period of time was a clear reminder of what an impactful leader our Mom really was, and it came in the form of stories from people who worked or lived at the Brookdale Englewood assisted living facility.

One young woman who works at the facility (but was off Sunday) stopped by on her way to Canada and told us she “had to see” Mom before she left because of the significant impact Mom had on her life. Another resident shared with us through tears (after Mom passed) about how important Mom had been in helping her to get through the move into the facility. Several staff members came by and shared how much joy Mom brought to the people that lived and worked in the facility. Another former employee (who had followed Mom from two different nursing facilities just to be with her!) shared about how loving and accepting Mom had been to her and her young son, and how Mom had encouraged her to get out of an unhealthy relationship. Impact, impact, impact!

Story after story of the impact (big and small) that Mom had on people and their lives. The thing is that I had never considered Mom to be inspiring or particularly uplifting. Yes, she was typically joyful and had a smile on her face, but she could also be extremely direct and sassy (at least the last few years of her life). As best I can tell, Mom’s impact (and therefore her leadership) came from two things: 1. Her willingness to see people for who they are and accept them as they are; and 2. Her ability to lift people up by believing in them genuinely and whole heartedly. In short, Mom loved. Not bad criteria for leadership in my book, and yet Mom had no role, title or position of authority or leadership. She was just another resident, just another part of the community.

But apparently not just another anything. She was loved because she loved. She inspired because she saw people. She uplifted people because she believed in them. This was and will always be Mom’s leadership legacy. If you’re tempted to think this is not about business, then think again. Leadership is about life, and life includes business. More important, leadership is about people – growing, empowering and inspiring people – and this is precisely Mom’s legacy of impact and influence.

There will never be a plaque hung or a note written about Mom as a leader (perhaps other than this blog), but Mom’s leadership legacy is a guide for all of us to emulate and follow in our own leadership – love people, see people, believe in people. Well done, Mom, you good and faithful servant leader!

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