A few months into my first job after graduate school, I realized that my worst professional fear was that I would never work anywhere else. No joke. I loved my job so much that I thought I’d never leave. We didn’t have a foosball table or free beer on Fridays, but the company culture was so amazing that my co-workers and I developed a deep commitment to the company. Commitment like that doesn’t happen by accident—it happens because of great leadership. The company I worked for was Work/Family Directions and our leader was its founder and CEO, Fran Rodgers.
Fran was a champion of work-life issues, and her tireless work helped shaped work-life policies nationwide. What Fran might not realize is how profoundly her leadership also shaped many of the people, like myself, who worked for her.
For context, it’s helpful to remember that I worked for the company in the mid-1990’s, before email was commonly used. Therefore, we operated somewhat like a call center, speaking with our customers primarily by phone.
Occasionally, our clients, many of whom were Fortune 500 companies with thousands of employees, were offered a free, time-limited, promotional product. This resulted in hours and hours of phone calls from client employees all eager to request their freebie. However, since Work/Family Directions was a company of only a few hundred employees ourselves, it was all-hands-on-deck answering calls.
During one of those crazy days fielding non-stop calls, I noticed Fran slip into the empty cubicle next to mine, put on a headset, and start answering the phone. Fran. The CEO. I assure you she had more important work to do. I promise you that none of her employees would have thought any less of her if she hadn’t picked up the phone. We already deeply respected her and she regularly expressed her appreciation for all us. But nothing could have better demonstrated how much we were valued than when she sat with us, side-by-side, answering phone calls.
I doubt that Fran even remembers doing this, but it doesn’t matter if Fran remembers. What matters is that the people who worked for her remember. What also matters is that, in that small act, Fran taught us that leadership isn’t a degree, a title, or a paycheck. Leadership is what you do every day.