Show People the Leader You Are in a Moment

by  Mary C. Schaefer  |  Leadership Development
Show People the Leader You Are in a Moment

I was sitting in a colleague’s office. I could hear a person on the other end of his phone from across the room, several feet away. It was tense. You could tell my colleague was pacifying an angry somebody.

We had gone through a downsizing event. I had facilitated the process for my part of the organization. The person on the other end of the phone was a director from a different part of the company altogether. He heard about an employee that the managers in my organization had chosen to let go. He knew my colleague, so he called him instead of me. I just happened to be in the room.

I could hear the caller saying what a travesty it was. Then he said the key words, “That could have been me.” He meant he had similar education, background, and accomplishments. I guess it hit a little close to home. He demanded an explanation.

My colleague got off the phone. He told me that I was going to have to prepare an explanation for that caller. He seemed to enjoy telling me that a little too much.

Thank goodness for happy accidents

If you know me at all, you won’t be surprised by how I responded. I gave him a version of this: If we entertained demands for explanations from random people, there would be no end to it. The process was confidential. That person on the phone was not entitled to an explanation. It would undermine a process that was designed well, for many reasons.

At that moment, my boss stuck her head in the room. She had overheard the entire conversation. She said, “Mary will not be providing an explanation to anyone and you can call that person back and tell him so.”

You never know when you will face a leadership moment

My boss probably had many of these moments. That’s why she was ready. I doubt she expected to encounter that particular situation as she started to walk down the hall that day. But she rose to the occasion in a moment.

I was grateful that I didn’t have to fight that battle further.

Handling the small stuff matters too

My boss didn’t earn my respect inadvertently. She was my thesis advisor. She was and still is a mentor. She encouraged me from the beginning to follow my instincts when something bothered me.

She backed me up or coached me in a variety of situations like this one. I was drawn to seek her advice. She would always hear me out, even when it was something she didn’t want to hear.

She knew I was growing unhappy as my twentieth year with our employer approached. Unlike others, she never made me feel disloyal or expected less than my highest performance. Her leadership inspired me to want to live up to her expectations.

It’s not always in big gestures that we find spectacular leadership. Many times it is in consistent, measured, thoughtful everyday actions.

What training, coaching, routines, philosophy, or role-modeling has shaped your leadership?
Photo Credit: Thomas Wolter/Pixabay

About The Author

Articles By mary-schaefer
Speaker, coach and trainer Mary Schaefer’s expertise is in creating work cultures where organizations and human beings can both thrive. She is a former HR manager. Find out more about how Mary helps managers empower themselves to make the most of their human resources with this special collection of articles selected for LCG readers:  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Sam  |  08 Dec 2016  |  Reply

Mary, It’s very reassuring to have a mentor like that to look up to. I think the most important thing about your story is that someone was there to step in. It’s essential for a leader to pay attention to detail, and speak their mind whenever they hear something they don’t agree with.

Mary C. Schaefer  |  08 Dec 2016  |  Reply

Thanks Sam. It was a tricky situation, with my boss calling out my colleague in front of me. Given the stakes of the situation though, I am thankful, and I completely understand why she chose to nip that in the bud in the moment. It takes discernment and she has it. Thanks again for commenting.

Jane  |  08 Dec 2016  |  Reply

I wish I don’t know whether to say your boss is exceptional or remarkable. Either way, she is the poster child for authentic leadership and a role model whose character should be cloned. We need more of them. Thanks for sharing your story.

Mary C. Schaefer  |  08 Dec 2016  |  Reply

Thanks Jane. I don’t know if I would have made it through my 20-year corporate career without her. I don’t even know if I would have made it into HR and gotten the experience I did. I owe her a debt that I’m hopefully paying forward.

Jane  |  08 Dec 2016  |  Reply

My response above somehow is missing part of the first sentence. That should say, I wish I could meet your boss.

Mary C. Schaefer  |  08 Dec 2016  |  Reply

Jane, she is still in my life even 12 years after I left the company, and she’s since retired. Still an encourager and mentor.

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