Leadership Series: Tales of the 4th Grade Leader

05-17-2012 7:28 AM

Today’s guest blogger is Beth Ludwig, Vice President of Sales & Marketing for the European Region.  Beth started her Mary Kay career in brand management and product development.  For the last 10 years, she has led the sales and marketing functions for the European region.

 Beth Ludwig, Vice President of Sales & Marketing for the European Region of Mary KayIn June, I celebrate 17 years at Mary Kay.   How fast the years have passed!  I recall being the youngest person in Marketing when I joined and well now, let’s just say that is not my reality!  Yet, I take comfort in knowing that in these past 17 years I have not just grown older, but more importantly, I’ve grown with experience, confidence, successes and failures.  

None of this would have been possible without the mentorship of my family and great Mary Kay leaders from my past and present.  They facilitated leadership lessons.  Lessons that I continue to benefit from today!

So when I was asked to share my thoughts in this blog about leadership, three things instantly came to mind.
1. I was flattered! 
2. I’m still very much a work in progress!  Each day brings a new challenge and a new leadership lesson. 
3. I wondered when leaders begin to emerge.  Of course, it has been debated for many years among psychologists and sociologists as to whether leaders are born or developed.  While we won’t go into that debate here, the question remained for me as to when we first exhibit signs of leadership.

Leadership is not age-dependent, nor is it gained through tenure or title 
A few years ago, when I was recognized and honored with a promotion, I shared the news with my mom.  During this conversation, she quite proudly mentioned something my 4th grade teacher had told her in a parent/teacher conference.  All those years ago, this teacher surmised that I was a “natural leader.”  Being the youngest of four children, circumstances could have easily led to my becoming more of a follower rather than a leader.  Reflecting back, I wondered where this natural leadership would have been visible.  What was there to lead in the 4th grade?  Perhaps a team victory during a game of freeze tag on the playground?!  I’ll never know what I demonstrated that inspired that comment from my teacher.  However, we all have heard of remarkable children who have taken up a cause and transformed many lives, children and adults alike, in a positive way.  And while I was by no means one of these remarkable children, it signaled one of my first leadership lessons.  

Leaders are motivated by helping others
If age or experience alone is not a prerequisite, what attributes are common among leaders of any age?  In my experience, I’ve found that great leaders share a common purpose in their desire to help others.  This often serves as the initial motivation to step into a leadership role.  And once there, the best leaders don’t forget this.  They use their position to mentor, challenge and champion those around them.  Their motivation is not only about the cause, it is inclusive of the people.

Leaders have vision
Effective leaders have a vision of what they want to accomplish.  Moreover, they possess the ability to paint the picture of the end result and influence others to participate in the process.  With the end goal in mind, leaders facilitate creation of a plan.  In essence, the destination has been set and then the roadmap for the journey is drawn.  The most effective leaders rally others to support and deliver to a shared vision and purpose.

Leaders must have drive
I see the strongest leaders parlay personal passion into their purpose, vision, strategy and team.  It is essential fuel for the commitment and perseverance needed.  It is this drive that allows genuine leaders to challenge the status quo, take a leap of faith and power forward regardless of the obstacles they are sure to encounter.

Leaders take action
Leadership is not just talk.  A true leader transforms thoughts and words into action.  Having a good idea, having a vision and having a plan is simply the beginning.  The result can only be achieved when the sleeves are rolled up and the effort expended.  In the poetic words of Vaclav Havel, “Vision is not enough; it must be combined with venture.  It is not enough to stare up the steps; we must step up the stairs.”

Leaders have strength of character
At the core of every great leader I’ve known, read about and tried to emulate, was strength in character.  I define this primarily as having integrity, humility and optimism.  Being a leader is not easy and one will often be tested.  This is where the courageous leader has opportunity to emerge, always doing what is right and ethical.  They are willing to make the unpopular decision, to have the difficult conversations and to lead during the most challenging of times.  This leader is willing to make mistakes, recognizing that “failing forward” is a valuable part of the learning process.  This leader also knows it is not about them.  They hold themselves and those around them to a high standard for the betterment of all, for as Michelangelo stated, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”  

I’m so appreciative for the great leaders with whom I’ve had the privilege to interact and for those future leaders!  I’m thrilled to work at a company where leadership is encouraged and cultivated.  One of the most valuable bi-products of a great leader is the development of even more great leaders who were raised and influenced by their example.  This is the beautiful embodiment of Mary Kay Ash’s desire to “pass it on!”

Beth sand boarding for the first time | Mary Kay        

Beth falling for the first time while sand boarding

Pictured: Beth sand boarding for the first time, and Beth falling for the first time while sand boarding.  Beth says, “Take that leap of faith! You may fall but that is OK. Pick yourself up and power forward, stronger for having tried.”