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How a Lake, a Quote, and a Childhood Memory Reminded Me of a Fundamental Truth About Leadership

I’m a sucker for nostalgia.

All it takes is for me to hear Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” on the radio and I’m all big hair, neon T-shirts and hot hormonal teenage angst again.

Songs, places, smells, phrases – they all whoosh me – sometimes gently, sometimes with a shove – into a moment from my past.

That’s what happened last week.

I was running a leadership workshop for the Department of Conservation at Lake Taupo.

That lake is responsible for my sweetest childhood memories. Sand, sunburn, the sleepy drone of outboard motors, that tired-happy feeling when I collapsed into the old wire bunk bed at night. The oily smell of Dad’s parka coat he went fishing in, jumbled up in trout pong and hugs.

Lake Taupo was Dad’s favourite place too. And it was Taupo where, sitting in his dinghy on the lake, he told me one of his all-time favourite quotes:

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

So I reckon it was serendipity that made me stumble across that exact same quote in the back of a tatty magazine when I sat in the foyer of the Lakeland Resort last Tuesday evening.

Inadvertently, through this quote, my Dad knew a fundamental truth about leadership: that leadership is mostly about how you make people feel.

About themselves.

About their work, about the organisation.

And about possibilities – and their own potential.

I’ve often thought that it’s especially when people aren’t performing, when they’re falling short, struggling somehow – that this quote really matters.

My Dad was the first person to show me that you can be direct, honest, tackle the tough stuff, have courageous conversations AND in that exact same moment – be compassionate. Kind. Make the person feel something other than shame or defensiveness.

So how will you be remembered?

How will people recall that you made them feel as a leader?

It’s never too late to consciously change the leadership legacy you’re creating.

Take a leaf out of my Dad’s book and apply the lesson he taught me in a dinghy on a lake all those years ago.

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1 Comment

  1. Briggita Baker on June 1, 2017 at 11:05 am

    This is also one of my favourite quotes Suzi. It reminds me to keep working on dropping the perfectionism and the focus on ‘getting it right’ (particularly when I’m leading a workshop) and instead relaxing into my natural style which I know in my heart generally makes people feel pretty good about the experience they’ve had with me!

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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