Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Enduring Optimism

Coming Home I, Pamela Yates

I have just completed a master's degree in Organizational Leadership. One the most valuable exercises, encouraged throughout the program, was the process of deep introspection to develop my personal leadership philosophy. Rather than a particular theory or creed, I realized that my philosophy -- the system of values that informs my lifestyle -- stems from the leaders in my family who have gone before me.

A tragic and unprecedented test of this leadership philosophy happened last November, when my fiancĂ©e’s father died in a plane crash. At times, Sarah and her family looked to me for emotional support while they handled the many tasks associated with the funeral. Before and during that time of bereavement, the leadership stories of my grandfather Donald McCulloch, my grandmother Corinne Kelso McCulloch, my grandfather Joseph McIlree, and my grandmother Hermine “Minnie” Nelson McIlree all helped to ground my daily choices. Their stories hold the values, and their combined legacies form the keystone to my sense of leadership.

Donald and Corinne McCulloch

Donald taught me the value of determined initiative. This grandfather, who lacked a high school diploma, began his 48-year career as a railroad signalman through determined initiative: he walked into a depot, promised to learn the technical skills, and then quickly taught himself through nightly study and practical experience. He became one of the most valued signalmen for the Soo Line. His life story shapes my leadership philosophy because opportunities to lead come from one's ability to take charge of an unfamiliar situation, learn what needs to be accomplished, and then guide others toward a common goal.

Corinne taught me the value of pursuing excellence in education and to always being open to learning experiences. This grandmother, born in 1896, graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a Bachelor of Arts at a time when women did not hold equal standing in American society, let alone higher education. She went on to become a professional educator, and maintained friendships with many of her former students. Her life story informs my philosophy because I too approach leadership as an ongoing educational experience. I always endeavor to learn the most from an opportunity. I also value my leadership practices as a chance to educate others, and I look forward to an opportunity to teach in academe.

Joseph and Minnie McIlree

Joseph taught me the value of building rapport with my peers. This grandfather, who was a large animal veterinarian in rural Wisconsin, also served on the Village of Palmyra School Board. Through his service to the community and skill at building relationships, he earned credibility and built rapport with local families as both a physician and a member of the school board. Remarkably, when he attempted to complete his tenure on the board, the community returned him to office through a write-in campaign. His life story shapes my approach to leadership because trust and respect for others is the primary way to earn a lasting sense of credibility in the community. Building rapport is at the core of my leadership practices.

Minnie taught me the value of faithfulness and service to my community. A mother of three, this grandmother was also an active member of the Palmyra United Methodist Church. When the church burned down, she was one of the first people to arrive on the scene in the middle of the night, and she returned to help early the next morning. Her life story informs my leadership philosophy because I share that strong sense of faithfulness and commitment to my community. As a leader, I want my peers to know and trust that I will be at the center of any problem the group is working to overcome.

Finally, my leadership philosophy is grounded in a sense of enduring optimism. Having experienced the untimely loss of friends and family, I recognize that every moment is an opportunity for me to lead myself and others toward a better life and a deepened relationship with God. Challenges and difficulties in life are to be expected, and no one is guaranteed an easy journey. Yet regardless of the challenge, no matter the circumstance, I value my skills and model them for others in daily practice. My leadership philosophy looks forward to challenges in life not as obstacles, but as opportunities to demonstrate my values in action.