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Leadership Lessons—From a Marine

My wife, Mary Kay, and I moved to Waco, Texas, from Florida primarily because of the efforts of one person—Mary Kennedy Thompson. At the time we moved she was president of one of Glass Doctor’s sister companies in the Dwyer Group—Mr. Rooter. We met her at an International Franchise Association convention and stayed in touch over the years.

In the six years that we have been here, Mary, and her husband, Will, have become our closest friends. As my wife and I both became Dwyer presidents, we made sure that Mary was our mentor.

  • Lesson No. 1 this week: Have a mentor! Who is your mentor? Who do you go to when you need to bounce something off someone?

Last year Mary was promoted to The Dwyer Group’s chief operating officer. It was a promotion that was well earned. We’ve always recognized Mary as a great leader. She credits eight years in the Marines for many life lessons, also many leadership lessons. One of her favorite quotes is a take-off from Margaret Thatcher’s, “If you have to tell somebody that you are a lady you probably aren’t.” Mary has substituted “Lady” with “Leader”—“If you have to tell somebody that you are a leader—you probably aren’t.”

Last week Glass Doctor had our annual conference. Franchisees, their employees and vendors from North America gathered in Dallas for this event. Our keynote for the event was Mary—speaking on leadership.

  • Lesson No. 2 this week: If you are having a large meeting, find a keynote that has the ability to connect with your audience and inspire them.

Part of Mary’s presentation focuses on many of the leadership Lessons she learned in the Marines—where she rose to the rank of captain. Since leaving the Marines she has been a Cookies by Design franchisee, eventually joining the ranks at the corporate level before being named president of the company. Dwyer Group recruited her for a long time before she made the decision to join the company as Mr. Rooter’s president. While at Rooter she also got her plumber’s license.

I had a chance to interview her after her presentation and asked about some of the events of her life. She jumped out of airplanes when a Marine—not once, but 63 times.

I asked her if she was afraid when she made the decision to be an entrepreneur as a Cookies by Design franchisee. Her response was “terrified.” She gave basically the same answer when I asked about her decision to become a company president.

  • Lesson No. 3 this week: To really succeed you have to get out of your comfort zone.

At 50+, you would never picture her as a runner—but she shared how she ran 8 miles last Saturday and has been ramping up her miles as she is training for another marathon. She has already ran 11.

  • Lesson No. 4: If you really want something you are going to have to work for it. Every time.

Mary is one of those people who set goals, then stays on a task until she reaches those goals. She disclosed a reading list of her favorite leadership books with everyone at the event. I thought I would share it in this week’s article. Her list includes:

  • “The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership” by James C. Hunter;
  • “Get Out of the Wagon and Help Me Pull This Thing” by Tom Reilly;
  • “The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader” by John C, Maxwell;
  • “How to Become a Great Boss” by Jeffrey J. Fox;
  • “Stepping Up: How Taking Responsibility Changes Everything” by John Izzo;
  • “The Question Behind the Questions: What to Really Ask Yourself To Eliminate Blame, Complaining and Procrastination” by John G. Miller;
  • “Principle-Centered Leadership” by Stephen R. Covey;
  • “The 360-Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization” by John C, Maxwell; and
  • “The Art and Practice of Leadership Coaching: 50 Top Executive Coaches Reveal Their Secrets” edited by Howard Morgan, Phil Harkins and Marshall Goldsmith.
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