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Leadership Isn’t a Job

Leadership Isn’t a Job

Ryan Estis challenges conventional thinking on corporate culture, communication, client acquisition, brand ambassadorship and change. The former chief strategy officer for the marketing division of McCann Erickson, he helps companies, leaders, and sellers more effectively connect to their two most important audiences: employees and customers. Guiding audiences through the realities of the new economy, he blends interaction, energy, and actionable content to transform and elevate your business outcomes. Below, Ryan tells the story of a moment of important human connection when he spoke at the HRMA Conference in Vancouver recently:

Think about the people who’ve helped you get where you are today. Have you had an extraordinary leader or mentor who’s made an impact on you? If you’re like me, you can clearly pinpoint one or two people who have provided support, guidance, challenge, inspiration and mentorship to help you become the person and professional you are today.

Do they know the impact they made on your life and/or career?

I like to challenge people to consider this question and often encourage them to take the time to let those people know (if they are still able). I missed the opportunity to thank someone who made a huge difference in my life and I regret it to this day.

I also think it’s worth considering: “Who would put you on their list? What impact are you having?”

Ellice and Mim: A Powerful Mentor Moment

During a live event, this simple exercise often leads to powerful moments of human connection (go ahead and give it try). Two weeks ago following my opening keynote for the HRMA Conference in Vancouver, I was made aware of one of those moments through Twitter.

 Ellice Schneider @elletales  .@RyanEstis My day was made today when a former employee walked up to me after your keynote and said I was “the one” #HRMA2015

 Ryan Estis @RyanEstis Wow @elletales! Pretty powerful..keep changing lives! Your work matters! #HRMA2015

Mim Ringwald @TehMimz  It’s true @elletales, you were “the one”- thanks @RyanEstis for the inspiring kickoff at the #HRMA2015

I wanted to learn more about Ellice and Mim and their “thank a mentor” moment. Here’s what Ellice told me.

She was walking out of the event when she heard someone say, “You were my ‘one’! You know that, right?” She turned around and saw her former employee, Mim.

“It really made me emotional,” Ellice says. “I didn’t know I’d had such an impact on her life. That’s what you want to do as a leader — help people grow and become better (even better than you). But it’s almost like a dream when someone tells you you’ve achieved that.”

Ellice hired Mim right out of college, when Mim had just earned a degree in human resources. “Our company wasn’t an easy place to start a career in HR,” Ellice says. “The learning curve was very steep. But the way I approached it was from a place of trust. I trusted that Mim had the ability to research and ask questions. I’d often give her assignments and let her run with them. I tried to include her in everything I did so that she’d learn. When I was a new grad, I didn’t get much challenging work. So I wanted to make sure she wasn’t just filing papers.”

Ellice says she tried to take a humble approach to leadership. “I always listened to her. I didn’t assume she wouldn’t know how to do something just because she was young. And because of that, she made us look like stars a number of times. She came up with processes and ideas that were much better than the way I’d been doing things. She became a more valuable employee because she was exposed to a lot of new opportunities. She stretched and grew quickly.”

Mim agrees. “Instead of just telling me the answer, she’d ask what I thought first,” she says. “She was always there to help me. She empowered me.”

The leaders in our lives almost always influence the kinds of leaders we become. Ellice credits her first professional mentor for showing her how to be a vulnerable, open leader. “She told me the truth, stuck up for me, listened to me, and gave me opportunities to grow,” she says. “She put a lot of effort into helping me learn and develop. That’s definitely influenced my own style as a leader.”

I asked Ellice for her advice to other leaders. “First, come from a place of trust. Then, be humble. You don’t have all the answers, and it’s totally possible for someone brand new to have a great idea that can help everyone shine. And, it’s important to give people guidance if they do go off track. No one’s perfect. But if you come from a place of trying to help people, they’ll be more open to feedback. Having hard, honest conversations builds trust. It’s about making people better, not paring them down.”

As leaders, we have the opportunity to change lives, shape careers and help others realize their full potential. Leadership isn’t a job — it’s a responsibility. And leaders who take that responsibility seriously can make a major impact on the lives of the people they lead.

Mim says she was surprised Ellice didn’t know she was her “one”. “Ellice was a huge inspiration to me,” she says. “I assumed she knew what an impact she’d had on me, but I realized through our conversation that she didn’t know the extent. It made me realize it’s important to reach out to people and let them know you appreciate them. Especially if you think the person knows — tell them anyway.”

There’s a worthwhile challenge for today. Let one person know the impact they’ve had on your life. It’s a moment both of you might not forget for a long, long time.

Ryan Estis/May, 2015