Paying it Forward: An Essential Component of Leadership

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Paying it Forward: An Essential Component of Leadership

We can all relate to the comparison of navigating a career path and running a marathon. Pursuing a career requires sweat equity. Sticking with it takes grit. Successful executives achieve career maturity through skill development, hard work and an unwavering commitment to organizational goals. Without question, personal drive and talent will always stand as the essential hallmarks of any career. And yet, it’s important to remember that no one reaches the summit on their own. We are the beneficiaries of those individuals who helped us along the way. And, we owe the same outreach to those who are still climbing the path.

When we’ve poured years of effort and persistence into a career, it’s easy to forget the areas of our road that were cleared for us by others. Did we carry the main load up Everest? Absolutely. Did we do it without pathfinders and fellow pack carriers? Nope.

We had help: We received guidance from management. We had the support of our colleagues. We benefited from those customers who were willing to let us prove ourselves.

True leadership is rooted in an individual’s understanding that the role of a leader is to actively help others achieve. Call it teaching, promoting or guiding; it’s all part of the same function. Leading is not an individual sport.

It’s a simple concept. And like a lot of simple concepts, it’s not always easily internalized. Sometimes a significant personal evolution needs to take place before an individual reaches an understanding of what leading is all about.

Here are some of the comments we encounter when discussing the Pay-it-Forward strategies of leadership:

  • “Hey, no one helped me. I worked long and hard to get where I am now!”
  • “Helping other people is a nice idea. Just tell me where I’m supposed to find the time for that while I’m running this division.”
  • “My business philosophy is this: If someone has helped me, then I’ll help them. Otherwise, I just don’t see how that benefits me.”
  • “My career has to come first. Worrying about other people’s jobs is not going to support me and my family.”
  • “I’d like to help more; I’m just not sure who I’m supposed to be helping and what that help is supposed to look like.”

It’s a fact. Sometimes people feel that helping someone else somehow detracts or diminishes what they feel should be coming to them. In their eyes, the pie will never be big enough for them to be comfortable in giving a slice to someone else. This is akin to thinking that opportunity is limited and there is simply not enough to go around. Thankfully, we do see that outmoded thinking in business beginning to diminish.

For those of us who were fortunate to have a relationship with a leader who took an interest in our career, we probably relate well to how employee mentoring and guidance supports an innovative and sustainable organization.

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” Jack Welch

Now that our role has evolved into leadership, how do we Pay it Forward? How do we adopt a leadership focus if we did not receive that focus in our own careers? We practice the following:

  1. We make the effort to share our experience and knowledge with employees. We share the stories of how we fell down and learned something in the getting up, as often, or more, as we share the tales of our victories.
  2. We broker business connections that will help other people. We make introductions to our business networks.
  3. We share ideas and resources that have worked out well for us. Pointing someone in the right direction may save them time, effort and money – all because we took the time to provide guidance.
  4. We acknowledge the efforts, successes and challenges that others experience. We offer our encouragement and assistance when we see others rowing hard.
  5. We stand as advocates for those with less experience. We help by providing needed re-direction and by identifying the training that will position them well.
  6. We lead by example. People don’t learn leadership by hearing about it. People learn leadership by associating with effective leaders. If people are not exposed to good leadership, they will be challenged when it is their turn to lead.

Great business leaders are rarely remembered for a record-breaking quarter or the amount of business they were able to bring into a company. Business leaders are remembered for the positive influence they had on the people they worked with. They understood their true legacy was their ability to help others achieve their goals and dreams. Their dedication to mentoring and assisting others created solid value for the companies they helped to build. They were confident in their success story and they lived it by Paying-it Forward.


Article provided MKS&H’s Human Capital Management Division.

About MKS&H:

McLean, Koehler, Sparks & Hammond (MKS&H) is a professional service firm with offices in Hunt Valley and Frederick. MKS&H helps owners and organizational leaders become more successful by advising them regarding their financial, technology and human capital management needs.

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MKS&H

MKS&H

MKS&H is committed to providing personalized tax and accounting services while developing a deep understanding of you, your culture, and your business goals. Our full view of financial systems and the people behind them allow us create and evolve the best solution that will help you and your business thrive. The accounting experts and consulting professionals at MKS&H work together to help you achieve the financial results you want.

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