Leadership Lessons from Everyday Heroes

Leaders get results through others. There are everyday heroes you’ve never heard of who may teach you almost as much as famous business writers. Why? Because these people have developed the ability to discover extraordinary employees — right under their noses.

Is there a gold mine of creativity, innovation, and leadership in your midst? Most companies do and don’t know it. You may have such a worker right now and not be aware of it.

Patty Lake, one of my “everyday heroes,” told me about a woman on her staff at Shell Services International who had worked in Payroll for over twenty-five years.

“In all that time,” says Patty, “she had never received a promotion. She had never been recognized for her contributions, led a team or participated on a special project. She hadn’t had a raise in several years. No one ever asked for her opinion or input. No one offered her training or development opportunities. No one had even bothered to find out if she enjoyed her job. And she was the lowest paid person in her job grade in the entire company.

“She had been given the lowest performance rating short of termination for many years. She didn’t rock the boat. She just did her job and did not complain.

“Fortunately, I didn’t know any of this. When I started at Shell, my manager agreed to let me give each employee a clean slate. I would not review past performance assessments nor listen to old gossip. Instead, I sat down with each staff member to find out about them and what they did. This woman, along with several others, expressed an interest in learning more about payroll and developing her skills and capabilities.

“I took her at her word and arranged for her to participate in the local American Payroll Association (APA) chapter. She took the basic payroll seminar offered by the national APA, took computer-application classes, and attended the statewide conference.

“She blossomed!

“Late this past fall, she led a project team for a customer’s special needs project, a highly visible and very delicate undertaking. The outcome was phenomenal. She and her entire team were recognized and rewarded by the customer for their successful handling of the work. In addition, she is now leading end-user training on the newly implemented web-based time and attendance system. She regularly speaks out in team meetings and has many creative and useful ideas. And she is planning to sit for the CPP (Certified Payroll Professional) exam this fall and studies for it every day.

“When she got her performance review this March, she earned a significant raise and an incentive bonus. She cried and told me that all she had ever needed was someone to believe in her. I did and I do.”

Such a simple story from a woman you have probably never heard of and will never meet, but Patty Lake’s example of discovering and developing leaders right under your nose could change your life and your own results as a leader. Now it’s up to you.