Today is Father’s Day in the United States and many other countries. Just as all parents and guardians are critical in guiding and teaching their children as they grow and mature, so it is true how effective leaders need to invest time and energy in the development and interests of their employees and colleagues. Just as with children, investments in the leadership development of colleagues will pay dividends later in their professional lives.
I was reminded of this a couple years ago when I was accompanying my son on a school field trip to Washington DC. As we were touring the Air and Space Museum, I came across an exhibit of the Wright Brothers, known for piloting the first flight of a man-made aircraft. In the exhibit, I saw a letter from Wilbur Wright in 1899 thanking the Smithsonian Institution for sending him materials on mechanical and human flight that he had requested in previous letter. (Copies of the original request can be found at the following site: https://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/wright-brothers/online/fly/1899/letter.cfm)
By providing these materials, the Smithsonian Institution set the wheels in motion for the invention, construction and flight of the world’s first airplane. Also, how fitting that 47 years after that exchange, the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution (initially named the National Air Museum) was established. As the saying goes, “You reap what you sow.”
The same is true of leaders and leadership. By giving your time, knowledge and wisdom to others, you often pay dividends to your cause, organization, profession, and often yourself. Personally, I have been the benefactor and the beneficiary in these exchanges. Let me share an experience of the latter.
In 2001, after 12 years at Eli Lilly, I was at a professional crossroads and was considering leaving the company to join a small biotech start-up in Pittsburgh. I was in search of guidance and advice and received it from many people. But one particular senior leader in my home function of statistics spent a significant amount of time with me at a critical point in my decision process. What made this interaction especially impactful was that our meeting was scheduled for half an hour, but this leader became keenly aware after the first 30 minutes that I needed more of their time. He stayed and talked with me for an additional two hours! I watched as his cellphone buzzed again and again, knowing that he was missing other meetings and one-on-ones all for my benefit. What also made a lasting impression on me is that he never looked at his phone or called his assistant to let her revise his schedule. He knew that this was a pivotal point in my professional career and gave me his undivided attention until he saw that I had what I needed from him. As a result of this meeting and his time investment, I decided to stay at Lilly which turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.
Later in my career, when I took on roles of leadership, I never forgot what this individual did for me at my time of professional and personal need. I have tried to “pay forward” the same time investment in any friends, colleagues and employees, whether it was simply listening, sharing my experience, or giving guidance. Whenever someone asks if I have a few minutes to talk, I’m prepared to give them all the time they need.
Take the time to invest in people. It is sure to pay dividends – and you may just help someone make one of the most important decisions of their life!
“The inventory goes home at night” – Louis B. Mayer