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Leadership Lessons from a Marine

To coin a phrase from my wife, one of my “sheros” (Mary Kay’s definition: a hero who is a woman) is Mary Kennedy Thompson, president of Mr. Rooter. When I became the president of Glass Doctor, Mary became my mentor. There was/is so much I can learn from her.

She does a video for her franchisees on Leadership. In her last episode, Mary describes the moment she became a student of leadership. Mary was a Marine for eight years. If she heard me say this she would remind me that “once a Marine, always a Marine.” Will, her husband, was also/is a Marine for eight years. If you met her you would never guess that she made over 50 jumps from an airplane during her military training!

In the video she discusses her first year as a Second Lieutenant when she was assigned Christmas Duty from 2 a.m. until 2 p.m. She was feeling sorry for herself being away from home during Christmas and her Colonel came in at 6 a.m. and brought her a hot breakfast. The Colonel asked her how many Marines she had talked with during the night. Mary responded that she met with all of the duty officers and followed her orders. It was the Colonel’s next statement that made the light bulb go off in Mary’s head. He asked her again how many Marines, who were away from home on Christmas, she had visited with during the night.

That simple statement helped Mary realize that leadership is about reaching out to others, inspiring others and has nothing to do with being selfish. After all, the Colonel didn’t have to get up at 5 a.m. and bring Mary a hot breakfast. He was simply showing her what leadership was all about without saying the words—while giving her an example of how she could do the same.

I’ve heard Mary tell that story before but it never really sank in like it did this time. Leadership is about giving—not getting. Leadership is about showing—not telling. Leadership is about inspiring—not getting inspired.

So I ask you to look back in your own life and identify two or three people who have taught you leadership without saying those exact words. Who has inspired you? Who would you like to emulate?

Most importantly, who have you inspired? Who remembers you like Mary remembers her Colonel?

That simple act made Mary become a student of leadership and now inspires her to share that with others. Being a student of leadership simply means that you have a goal of becoming a better leader every day! It means that you look forward to some decisions you need to make … while looking back at decisions you have made. Ask yourself: if you were a better leader, would you have made those same decisions?

It is easy for me! I think I would have changed hundreds of decisions I made—just based on the leadership question alone! This also means to me that I am becoming a better leader because I’m more aware of the way leaders act … and make decisions.

June is almost over already. I can’t believe it. The first half of the year is a memory. If your goal was to become a better leader in 2014 what have you done so far to achieve it? Read any books? Have you had discussions with someone about how you become a better leader? Did you surround yourself with leaders and ask them what you could do to improve? Hopefully this weekly blog helps.

The great news is that there are six months left to work on your leadership qualities. I guarantee you that you will have a better life if you become a better leader! Hiring and retaining employees will become much easier because you will become a “magnet” and people will be attracted to you. People will want to work with you.

I don’t know what Marines do to inspire leadership. But I do know Mary’s Colonel would be very proud of her today. Have a great week.