The Teacher Should Always be a Student

AUTHOR'S NOTE:  This was my final "On The Rocks" note to my staff when I left my last agency.  But honestly -- i could have written it as part of any of the roles where I have had the privilege to be a leader.  Learning goes both ways.  Here is what I wrote to my staff.  As Always, confidential an proprietary information has been removed.  

Dear colleagues,

As I am sure won’t surprise you, I have been thinking about this “On the Rocks” for a long time, after all it is my last one as your leader.

My first draft was just a wee bit long (as in 6 pages). My second draft was going to be much theme was going to be, Top Ten Things I Will Miss and Top Ten Things I Won’t, but it was a little lopsided because after “nagging you about timesheets” I was coming up a little short on the “Won’t Miss” list.

That topic did, however, give me a good chance to reflect on my job as your leader. I am not going to opine on our accomplishments together (though I think of them often and am just so, so proud) but I thought I would share some of my reflections on what the job has been like for me.

Some of you may remember my favorite t-shirt. On the front it said “Managing Director” and on the back it said, “Because Bad Ass Problem Solver is not an Official Job Title. I will admit, there were plenty of days when it felt like that was my job – solving problems, or at least trying to.

But believe me, as I reflect on my time as your MD it isn’t the problem solving that I will remember. What I will remember is the incredible and amazing opportunity I had to watch you grow and, as a result, to grow myself.

It was indeed my great privilege to be your leader. You know, I wasn’t exactly a “newbie’ when I came into this role so I had some pretty strong feelings about leadership was all about and I thought I was pretty good at it. But then you showed me that I had much more to learn. You taught me new things about being a leader that have enriched me and, I hope, helped me become a stronger leader.

So in my final “On the Rocks” as your MD, I’d like to share a few of the important things I have learned during our journey together.


You taught me:

  • That being a leader is not a rising in the ranks, but rather it is journey to help those around us rise in the ranks.

    o Thank you for earning all the promotions that I was so delighted to be part of.

  • That talking about being a great place to work is not nearly as important as working together to become an even greater place to work.

    o Thank you for being such good caretakers of our culture.

  • That leadership is not about being in charge, it is about taking care of those in your charge

    o Thank you for trusting me to care.

  • That good leaders don’t worry about who is right, they care about what is right.

    o Thank you for keeping me honest about my values.

  • That saying “I don’t know” is not only okay, it also increases the likelihood that someone else will step up who does.

    o Thank you for having so many of those answers...and for sharing them with me.

  • That saying “yes” to your ideas was almost always the best answer.
    o Thank you for being so damn smart. And your creativity and innovative way of thinking blew my mind on an on-going basis.

  • That I didn’t need to spend my time proving that you should have confidence in me, I just had to help you see why you should have confidence in yourselves.

    o Thank you for earning that confidence.

  • That stress can become passion when we work together for something we care about with people who care.

    o Thank you for putting up with the inevitable stress of agency life and finding ways to inspire with your passion.

  • And finally, I have learned that leadership is an education that never stops. And the best leaders think of themselves as the students, not the teacher.

    o Thank you for being my teachers over these past years.

    I cannot wait to see all the amazing things you will accomplish. Thank you for inspiring me and making me want to become a better leader every single day.  Now go be great!