What an Ugly Sweater taught me about leadership?#45 Mentorship Lessons

Think about someone in your life who has made a positive impact in terms of leadership.

That person along with the leaders mentioned above probably had this in common with one another.

They focused primarily on your growth and the well being of you.

You and I have those people in our lives that put their needs aside to help us.

One of those people in my life is my mother.  It was her example that taught me what being a serving leader is all about.

A little about me, I was raised in the frozen tundra, otherwise known as Grafton, ND, 2 hours from the Canadian border.

As you can imagine winters can be frigid there. This story takes place in the winter of 1990. Temperature was -22.

I was in the seventh grade and I just landed a solo for the Christmas program and of course I had to have a new outfit. I pleaded with my parents to get me a new outfit. Them being the good parents they obliged.

It was the day of the school concert. My first solo. I was really excited and my mother had said she was going to get me a new sweater, but it hadn’t appeared yet. 3 hours before the concert, where was mother with my new sweater? Our front door opens and there she was, Pamida store bag in hand…my new sweater had arrived…. I absolutely hated it. It was black with multiple colored triangles. She wanted me to wear this! After much debate she held her ground and said you have two choices either wear it or wear one of your older sweaters. I begrudgingly wore the new sweater.


Two hours till concert time.

Back then our school concerts were held at the church. We would meet at the school then the bus would drive us to the church. It was freezing that night of our concert! I couldn’t believe how cold it was. The weather was quickly turning into a blizzard. Not only did I have to wear this sweater I didn’t like, but it also had to be freezing outside.   I sat in my bus seat and asked myself how my mother could buy me such an ugly sweater. Peering out the window in the distance I saw someone walking and thought boy, it would be terrible to walk in this nasty weather.

As the bus approached the person walking I came to realize the person walking in these blizzard conditions was my mother. I later learned she chose to purchase a brand new sweater for me vs. putting much needed gas in her car. Talk about a paradigm shift.

Over the years there have been many examples of my mother’s serving attitude. For example her employees always respected her and went the extra mile for her. I admired that about her and was curious why.  She is tough but there had to be more. I found out her secret about 7 years ago.

I had the opportunity to work with one of her former colleagues and asked her what it’s like to work with my mom.

She said, “Your mom is never about titles, she has an attitude that says people and relationships are more important. She genuinely cares about others. You never feel that her personal success supersedes her staff success. When an opportunity for a promotion comes up she is always the first encouraging you to go for it. Even if it means she would be shorthanded. Whatever she expects her staff to do; she always shows them how to do it first. In today’s world, many managers expect their subordinates to perform tasks which they themselves are incapable of doing. Because she is willing to get her hands dirty she builds credibility with her staff and respect. This is why people want to work for your mom. Your mom is a servant leader.”

John C. Maxwell, famous leadership mentor said this, “True leadership must be for the benefit of the followers, not to enrich the leader.”

What I learned from my mother is that servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better communities and ultimately creates a more just and caring world. For the servant-leader this isn’t a sense of duty, it is embedded in who they are as a person; they genuinely care about others and know that’s key to success.

Who in your life has shown you what servant leadership is about? How can focusing on helping others grow impact you as a leader?

My hope is that you found value in this article. If you have found value I invite you to like, comment, and share.

And Mom if you are reading this article, I want to say thank you for being a great example of what it means to be a serving leader

Equip, Educate, Empower, and Encourage others to become better leaders!

Tony Jalan

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