As a kid, I was lucky enough to spend most of my summers at Grandma’s. My grandma was a fiery woman with a great sense of humor and an undying work ethic. She was strict, but incredibly patient and smart, with an uncanny ability to pass on her wisdom in a way that sticks with you.
Some 30 years later, I look back at the time we spent together and reflect on the lessons in leadership and mentoring she bestowed on me.
My grandma had a little farm where she grew corn, tomatoes, carrots, peas, strawberries, and various other crops. Every year all the cousins would plant pumpkins and we had a contest to see who could grow the biggest pumpkin before Halloween.
Now, as the youngest and most headstrong of the cousins, this was serious business. I didn’t really know much about gardening, but I’d go check on my pumpkin every day I could to make sure it was getting enough sun and water and whatever else my five-year-old brain could think of. Pumpkins take months to grow, so I kept up this routine through the fall until it was time to cut the stem and weigh the pumpkins.
I don’t recall if I had the biggest pumpkin (though I’m sure I did at least one year), but I was always proud of what I had grown and the work and dedication I put in. Even as a kid, I saw that it takes time and hard work to achieve success.
As a leader, it’s important to recognize that those we lead also require patience and nurturing in order to become the best. We have to be willing to put in the time and effort to help others grow and be successful.
One day I found a how-to article about building a paper sailboat in a kid’s magazine and before long I was scouting out supplies to build my own. There was a small canal that ran through my grandma’s property and it was the perfect place to test my sailboat.
Feeling confident with my first design, I placed it in the water with high hopes and extreme confidence. Soon after setting sail, I promptly watched the boat take on water, tip over and sink.
Never one to give up, I tried and tried again until I found success. My grandma encouraged me, helped me find new materials, and offered suggestions for the design. For several days (or possibly weeks) I tinkered until I had the sturdiest and best paper sailboat I could. At last, the little boat coasted down the canal.
While this could be a lesson in never giving up, for me it’s a lesson that success doesn’t come easy. It’s hard work, and it takes time to get results. Failure is a step on the path to success, and allows us to learn and grow. As a leader, we must support other’s ideas and help them achieve their own success.
Looking back at the time I spent with my grandma, she gave me an immense amount of freedom to choose my own path. Whenever I had a harebrained idea she’d give me the tools I needed and let me work out the problems on my own. I was met with failure more often than not, but ultimately that just made the moments I achieved success even sweeter.
As an adult, I’m not afraid to try something new, or to share a new idea. And as a leader, I understand the importance of giving others the freedom to fail. We should always be raising the bar, and with that often comes failure. But when success is achieved, it sets the stage for far greater growth and a desire to raise the bar even further.
My grandma may not be here today, but I am immensely grateful to her for the lessons and values she taught me at such a young age. These memories stand out in my mind 30 years later not because I had the best sailboat or the biggest pumpkin, but because of how those experiences shaped me as a person and a leader.
We all have mentors who throughout our lives shaped us to be the people we are today, and we have the ability to be fantastic mentors to those who follow. How are you stepping up today to help lead those around you to success?