Who are you when no one is looking?


15 years ago, I attended a retirement dinner for one of my graduate school professors.  Throughout the dinner, different people shared how this professor had made an impact on their lives.  Many of these were of small moments that my professor didn't recall and had no idea left such an impression.  When it was his turn to speak, he said that he was overwhelmed by everyone’s stories.  He realized you never know when people are watching you, your actions, and your leadership.  And in many ways, this is the essence of leadership: how do you carry yourself in moments when you don’t realize people are watching?

I recently took a new job at a different company.  I am very excited about the change and the new opportunity.  What I have been unprepared for was the response I received from people at my previous employer.  It started with “Congratulations!” messages I received in response to my messages letting people know of my change.  Then the messages became personal.  And started including things like “it has been inspiring to know you” and “I always appreciated the way you talked about your team members, the pride you felt in each team member’s contribution and accomplishments was apparent.”  Even mentions of me being a “Leadership Development Unicorn.” I received phone calls from people sharing things they value in me as a leader and mentions of small moments that had great value to them.

Then the gifts started showing up at my home:  cards, flowers, books, mugs, pens, jewelry.  Every day left me more overwhelmed than the next with these heartfelt messages of where I had made a positive impact on someone’s life and career.  Personal notes described the very things I had hoped someone would say about me as a leader when I was starting out and while sitting at my professor’s retirement dinner.  Descriptions of the legacy I have created.  I am intentional about my approach to leadership. I put thought into how I show up in key moments.  How I want to land on people.  What impressed me about this transition is that most of the impact I have created for people wasn’t through those intentional moments. It was through who I was when I didn’t realize anyone was watching. 

Transitions are hard, but the best gift I have received through this process is learning how I show up as a leader. I am grateful to each of these people who took the time to share their thoughts and wish me well.  “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” – John Wooden

Who are you when no one is watching?