The following article was written by Cindy Jorgenson, MAS. Cindy has 15 years of industry experience beginning as an assistant, becoming a top sales producer and is currently the vice president -national sales manager for Brown & Bigelow. During her years she has achieved great sales success winning multiple sales and industry awards. When the editors of PromoKitchen asked me to share some thoughts on leadership, I jumped at the opportunity! That was before I began the process of writing about such a nebulous subject. As I pondered the characteristics that make a great leader and the significant impact a strong leader can have on both an individual and on an organization, I realized that everyone develops his or her understanding of leadership through his or her own experiences.
When I was growing up, my Dad, the proud and fiercely independent Marine was the only “leader” I knew. As a Master Sergeant, he was trained to fearlessly lead men into battle. At least that’s what I was taught to believe. In my mind, leaders displayed confidence.
When I was 23 and married my ex-husband, “leadership” took on a more personal meaning. My ex-husband’s strong personality convinced me that we were making a good decision to marry so young. I learned (the hard way) that some people lead through the strength of their own personalities.
As I moved into the work force in my mid-20s, I discovered a new aspect of "leadership:" competence. The distributor owner who introduced me to this industry hired me as his assistant. He was very good at what he did, and he led us all through his own personal competence.
The opportunity to become a salesperson exposed me to a different aspect of leadership, the power of effective communication. I discovered that I could lead clients to decisions to purchase promotional-product-based solutions to their marketing objectives by effectively communicating the features and benefits of the solution.
Recently, I experienced the most profound form of leadership I have ever seen in my life. A girlfriend and I decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, and we hired a guide service to lead us on the climb. When we arrived in Tanzania and met our guide, I wanted to ask for a refund. I asked myself, how is this poor African man with no formal education and limited English language skills going to lead two inexperienced American female climbers on a five day trek to the summit? By the end of the first afternoon, my doubt was replaced by respect and awe as this perpetually happy, kindhearted man carefully taught me everything I needed to know to experience five of the most amazing days of my life. He led us with a keen assessment of our strengths and weaknesses as well as an acute understanding of how to train us to acquire the skills we lacked.
Leadership means many things to me. I have learned through personal experience that no single person embodies all of the characteristics of effective leadership. People lead in a variety of different ways, by effectively following a rigid pre-determined set of procedures (my dad), through force of their own personality (my ex-husband), through their own competence (my first boss) or through an implicit understanding of people and other cultures (my Kilimanjaro climbing guide). My own experiences have had a much stronger impact on my understanding of “leadership,” than did any articles or books I have read on the subject.