Leaders Grow Leaders

About half a year into my service as the campus administrator at McCook Community College we had our annual transfer fair. This gave students the opportunity to explore different options for transferring to four-year colleges. I was surprised when the president of Hastings College, Don Jackson, came to visit me during the fair.

Don was an alumnus of Cambridge High School and McCook Community College. He went on to Hastings College and Physical Therapy School at Northwestern in Chicago. After graduating he developed a successful multi-state health care company that focused on physical therapy services. Jackson then became the Chief Operating Officer at Easter Seals and the nonprofit grew exponentially under his leadership. After ‘retiring’ he led the Hastings College Foundation and through that became president of the college.

It was great to meet a talented leader and former alumni, but Don was willing to invest his most precious resource, his time, with me over the next four years. A couple times a year, we would find time to get together in McCook or I would visit him in Hastings. Once a year, I would bring a group of McCook Community College students to Hastings to see the campus and visit with him.

When we would meet one on one, he would give me 3-4 hours of his time and take me to lunch. On the outside, it looked like a conversation, but for me, it was an advanced class in leadership. I still remember some of the wisdom he shared with me that included general and specific information:

“If what you’re doing isn’t scaring you a little bit, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough”

“Keep working hard and you’ll never know what future opportunity might present itself to you”

“Your CFO should be the most conservative person on your leadership team. It helps provide balance to the vision you create.”

Now that he has retired from the presidency and moved back to Chicago it is difficult to meet in person frequently. We still exchange Christmas Cards and the last time I took a group of students to Chicago, he treated us to Giordano’s.

He had nothing to gain from our relationship, yet he freely gave his time for us to meet. Looking back, I’m amazed at his willingness to make a personal sacrifice to help develop a future leader that won’t affect his day to day life. It was a selfless act of giving back.

I work with many people who will gladly give of their time or expertise if they can see how they will benefit, but rarely do I see someone willing to invest in others just because it is a good thing to do. As a leader, it is your responsibility to continue to do this. Invest in other people and not just the people in your organization or your circle that will help you.

As a leader, you are called to develop other leaders even with the sacrifice of time it takes. This month, my challenge for you is to find one person you currently aren’t working with to develop and actively seek them out and offer to spend time with them. You don’t need to approach this with an agenda or a set curriculum, but if you make the time to build the relationship, the development will occur.

Don never approached this as he was the all-knowing expert, but just showed interest in me and wanted to get to know me better. There was no set curriculum, we just spent time together and I grew tremendously through the experience (I did always come prepared to the meeting with a list of questions). I am thankful for this selfless act that has helped in my growth as a leader and hope I can do it for someone else in the future.