Finding the “Magic Leadership Fairy Dust”!

Excerpt from David McKendry’s Speech at CS Week

It’s hard to believe that it was 6 years ago when Rod Litke asked if I would participate in the CS Week Friday Closing Panel to talk about mentors. At the end of my talk 6 years ago, I was struck by the audience response. People asked me for my notes which were then delivered all-across North America. Some approached me with tears in their eyes. It was either a bad presentation or, it seemed that I had struck a nerve…

This experience led to an exploration of people’s stories. “Who have been your mentors?” I might have asked, or “What did you learn from them?” Long story short, when I posed the Leadership Lessons Learned book suggestion to CS Week, they supported the idea.

Everyone has a story. Each one of us has mentors – in some cases good mentors, and in other cases, not so good. These stories can be raw and very near the surface.

Like many, I count my parents among the many mentors in my life, but my mom and my dad have been extra special.

From my mother, I have learned to be an encourager. She attributes this lesson to her 1930’s elementary school teacher Miss Bessie Higgins. Miss Higgins was an old maid who rode to school with the milkman. She arrived early, lit the fire to warm the school, and then had a short nap before the students arrived. Mom recounts when, as a young grade 5 girl, she shyly told Miss Higgins that she would like to learn how to fly an airplane. The old maid teacher could have instantly dismissed the young girl’s dream as a fantasy. Instead, Miss Higgins replied with direct eye-to-eye contact and a pointed finger with effect, “Then someday you will”. Mom has never forgotten this important encourager in her life.

Mom, now 89 years old, went on to become one of Canada’s first female flight instructors. She followed her passion and began her professional flying career in the 1950’s. In fact, my mom taught my dad how to fly an airplane. That’s how they met. And then he became an air traffic controller – so he could tell her where to go! Inside family joke… At the end of her career, mom was the Designated Flight Test Examiner for Canada’s first astronauts – the ones that participated in the Space Shuttle program. Yup, these brave souls had to get by my mom to get into space. Good luck to them! Check Mom out on Google… Felicity McKendry! Thanks again to Miss Higgins for being an encourager!

My Dad, a kind man, was a stickler for detail – I suppose not a bad thing for an air traffic controller. From my Dad, among many lessons, I learned to simply “do the right thing”.

Like each of you, I learned many lessons during my formative years from my parents and others, and throughout my career. I continue to learn each day and appreciate the mentors that have spent a season or perhaps a lifetime helping to shape me into the person I am today. These people have blessed me greatly as I have traversed a career that has spanned the telecom and utility sectors while living in Canada, the United States, Australia and Singapore. This June, during National Electricity Month, we celebrate the sector that inspired and brought me to where I am today.

To round out your story today, I would like to pose the following question: What leadership traits are most Important to you? Please reflect on the mentors and leaders in your life that you admire and identify the traits that they demonstrate.

Have you ever considered, what makes a great leader? What causes us to take notice and say, I admire that person, they have what it takes, they have it all together, I want to be like that person, I want to follow that person, I’d go through a brick wall for that person…?

Is it title? Reputation? Position? Status? What is the secret sauce to leadership? What is the “magic leadership fairy dust” that some people possess, and others don’t?

Can a person be a boss but not a leader? (I think so!) Can a person be a leader but not a boss? (Again, the answer is yes). Reminder – Lead from where you are! It has been said that the Boss has the title, but the Leader has the people. The sweet spot is to work for a boss who is also a leader!

What exactly is leadership then? In my experience, leadership is not about you! It is about helping those around you reach their potential! Helping others reach their potential will naturally expand your influence.

How do you help people reach their potential? It is about building trust. Trust is the special relationship glue. Trust allows teams to conquer mountains!

How do you build trust? Aretha Franklin nailed it – it’s all about R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Respect. It’s The Golden Rule – Treat others the way you would like to be treated – especially if you are the boss!

It sounds simple, but in many cases, the truth of this simplicity gets lost in the press of business. You may have observed bosses who yell, swear, bang the table and puff out their chest. Although this shock and bullying method of managing may get short term attention and results, damage is done each time this approach is used.

There is little doubt that successful leaders typically possess several key attributes. These strengths may include Vision, Passion, Drive, Intellect, Bravery, Education, Decisiveness, Charisma, Contacts, Courage, and Experience. This may be Who they are, but the “magic leadership fairy dust” and how they drive long term sustainable results is found in their character – How they treat others.

Let’s explore this a bit more – how does one respect another in such a way that Trust is built and Leadership flourishes? What does the golden rule look like in action?

Some might say it looks like this:

  • Be an encourager
  • Do the right thing
  • Do what you say you’re going to do
  • Show up on time
  • Be honest
  • Be transparent
  • Be authentic
  • Admit your mistakes and apologize
  • Know your employee names, and the names of their children!
  • Listen – God gave us 2 ears and one mouth, we are to use them in that proportion
  • You see, people are like strings – if you push them, they will ball up. If you truly lead them, they will follow
  • Engage on the front line
  • Spend time with your customers!
  • Say please and thank you
  • Give the credit, take the blame
  • It’s not the title of your position, it’s the conduct of your character
  • Praise in Public and correct in private
  • Delegate wherever possible
  • Be compassionate
  • Be kind
  • Be humble
  • Help people learn – “Just because we’re poor doesn’t mean we have to have an impoverished mind” (thanks to Eva Liggins’ Aunt Lucille for that one!)

You get the idea – that was just a sample of the 470 lessons provided by the 40 seasoned, successful authors of Leadership Lessons Learned from Our Mentors who are sharing their leadership secrets accumulated over a combined 2,000 years of experience – so worth taking note!

It has been my observation that bosses focus on the W5 – Who’s going to do What, Where, Why and When. Leaders include the W5, but they focus on the HOW. How they engage you, how they train you, how they coach you, how they correct you, how they recognize you, how they reward you and how they celebrate you! How the HOW’s are handled can drive a project to exponential success or failure! It’s in the HOW where the “magic Leadership fairy dust exists”!

In closing – to lead successfully, build Trust by showing Respect – by applying the Golden Rule – Treat others the way you would like to be treated, especially if you are the boss!

Thank you.