As I sit here eating apple pie and ice cream – yes, I’m a southern kid – I’m reflecting on our Leadership Offsite that ended yesterday. On the heels of Mother’s Day, I remembered an essay I wrote about 13 years ago at Sapient in response to a contest with the topic being “What Leadership Means To Me.” Either way, I thought I’d share it as the leader mentioned is a gift from God to me.
“What leadership means to me.” Initially I thought what an easy subject. I’ll just think of great leaders in my lifetime, brainstorm attributes that I deemed necessary to be a great leader, select the leader of choice and explain why I considered this person to be a great leader. As I began to brainstorm on traits of a leader, people that I admired began disappearing from this list. Even more shockingly, my name vanished with minutes. Later great CEOs, military leaders, politicians, and civil leaders vanished leaving a hand full of leaders accompanied by my mother, Patricia H. Bailey.
Within four years of graduating from high school, my mother was married with three kids. During the fourth year, my father passed away leaving her with three children and a high school education. Only twenty-two years old, she realized that the only way she could provide a decent life for her family was to obtain a college education. With the help of her family and friends, my mother graduated from college with honors and later returned to earn her Master’s Degree in Education. Although she never remarried, she provided us with a solid spiritual foundation and prepared us for the obstacles of life.
Having gone through so much as such a young age, my mother realized the beauty of life and how short life really is. She also realized the importance of education and financial awareness. During the summers she would purchase books on Math, English and Literature for the grade levels we were attending in the Fall. This gave us a jump-start on the students in our class and kept our minds active during the summer. This also assisted us in becoming accustomed to excellence and soon we expected excellence of each other and ourselves. During this same period, my mother opened a saving account for each of us and began giving us allowances. Initially, the allowance period was for one week, then two weeks and finally a month. After receive your allowance, you would not receive any other funds until the allowance period was over. We soon learned to budget our funds for the entire month. My sister was the best – whenever we would go out, she would leave her money at home knowing that my brother or I would not let her go without. Consequently, at the end of the month she would always have more money than we would. As with the allowance, my mother gradually introduced us to our savings account.
All of us would make monthly trips to AmSouth Bank to deposit funds in our saving account. The ritual continued for years. As we grew older, our allowance increased and we had to decide how much to spend versus save. We became motivated to save as our pennies became dollars and so on. During the summers, my brother and I would cut lawns in the neighborhood to earn extra cash. I can still hear my mother saying “It’s not how much you make – it’s how much you save.” As I grew older and began researching other ways to increase the returns on our savings, my mother began to trust me to a make decisions with her money. This was a major confidence booster for a teenage. Actually, I cannot take all the credit, it was my older brother who introduced me to the stock market. Even now my mother allows me to make her investment decisions. Although education and financial awareness are important, a person needs much more to become a leader of the future. They must have ethics and values.
During my childhood, my mother took special care to prepare us to become ethical leaders of the future. It began with a solid foundation in Christianity. It’s not just that my mother took us to church. It’s the idea of practicing what you preached. This is why it was so easy to follow her rules and to accept her teachings. I can still hear her saying, “You can do anything you put your mind to.’ ‘Treat everyone like you would like to be treated.’ ‘If you don’t have anything good to say-don’t say anything’ and ‘Regardless of the outcome, never lie.’” These words are constantly chiming in my ears and have become a part of my inner spirit. These are a few of the values my mother instilled in her children and our friends.
My mother definitely exhibits attributes of a true leader. In the mist of life’s adversities, my mother made tough decisions for the betterment of her family. It was not about what was easy for Patricia H. Bailey, but what would help her children succeed in the future. Leaders must also be able to develop new leaders, as my mother did with us. Her teachings and style – practice what you preach – encouraged us to accept her principles.
Finally, my mother had ethics. A person can succeed using unethical practices, but I think great leaders win with ethics. Great leaders would rather lose than win with their heads down. So you asked, “What does leadership mean to me?” My mother, Patricia H. Bailey, exemplifies what leadership means to me.
I found this essay after 12 years during our family move over the summer and it reminded me of the sacrifice and love my mother displayed toward her “Three Musketeers” as she would call us.
By the way, I think it speaks to the character of the team at Sapient as they selected this as the winning essay about 13 years ago.
Who would your leader of choice be and why?
James, thanks for dusting off and sharing this essay; I enjoyed it and appreciated it. I think we all owe your mother a debt of gratitude for instilling in you a strong sense of integrity and ethics. I am grateful that you have founded Armedia on this same sense of integrity and ethics; I think it shows and makes a difference. It is part of the reason I am here.