Googling “Leadership Characteristics” nets millions of hits with familiar lists of adjectives – driven, focused, visionary, and many more. The traits at the top of my list are integrity, kindness and the willingness to speak up – even when it goes against the grain. I learned the value of these traits from my mother, and as a leader in health technology, I have come to appreciate her lessons even more.
My father died when I was a baby leaving my mother widowed with eight children – she soon learned the family farm was heavily in debt: The only financial option was filing bankruptcy thus owing pennies on the dollar to debtors. Growing up, local businessmen would come to the house, my mother would give them a check, and she’d make a note in a small, red notebook. It was many years after the notebook disappeared that I put the pieces together: Mom had kept track of, and paid off, the true debt. People respond to leaders who can be trusted to do the right thing – even when it is the hardest path: Observing my mother teach that lesson without ever saying a word, crystalized in me the importance of integrity.
The second characteristic my mother taught me that I believe critical to leadership – and life in general – is to be kind: It costs nothing and has been shown to have benefits for the receiver and the giver. On the Saturdays Mom didn’t work, she would be up early to bake for those in our community who needed the food more than our family. Community was important to her: dropping off an unexpected pie was a way for her to nourish and check in on others. No one would judge my Mom as great leader using the definition we’ve come to define it professionally. Yet she was a leader – a powerful force that positively impacted those around her. Her impact was more significant than she would have imagined; at her funeral, the church was so full, some people had to sit in the basement to listen to the service.
Even though my mother embodied kindness, that is not to say she didn’t speak her mind. She had a sharp tongue if someone was acting poorly or not working hard enough. But for what really mattered, my mother had a world view that exceeded her experiences and the environment where we lived. I recall the suicide of a well-known man in our town. The churches would not bury him and the community was full of unkind commentary – as they believed he was going to hell. I was struggling with this information and asked Mom if it was true. My mother was a deeply devout woman, yet she went against the status quo. She told me she didn’t believe he was in hell saying, “he was a good man who took care of his family and enriched the community”. She explained he must have been in deep mental pain and God would understand that. This kind of insight into humanity was decades ahead of its time and against the grain.
While I have continued to uphold these lessons of integrity, kindness and speaking up throughout my career, these leadership attributes have proved to be even more critical in the health technology industry. My responsibility is to lead my team in delivering products that improve the lives of patients across the globe. We are trusted by patients and healthcare professionals to provide medical treatments they can use with confidence. I am grateful to have had a mother who led by example and demonstrated the attributes needed to be a great leader. Every day, I seek to continue her legacy making a difference in a field that affects so many lives.