What Does It Take to Be a Good Leader?
We all have our leaders and mentors; if you’re a parent, you also have learners who look up to you. Fortunately, our local Rotary Club allows both of these worlds to collide. This summer my son Clayton attended our district’s Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA), a weeklong camp for incoming high school seniors. I was fortunate enough to get to participate at RYLA with my friend and mentor Sonny Brown. With Feb. 20 being National Leadership Day, I couldn’t imagine a better opportunity to share this experience and what I’ve learned about leadership from Sonny and Clayton.
Sonny and I met when our family started attending St. Francis church more than ten years ago. During that first meeting, I already knew that Sonny was a successful businessman. You can’t drive down a major street in El Paso and not see one of his signs on a real estate project. What stood out most was Sonny’s sincerity. Sonny took a real interest in me and my family and I could tell straightaway that he was a person I could befriend and trust. Since that time, I have gotten to know Sonny personally and professionally.
Sonny is one of the best leaders I know, and he has plenty of experience to back that statement up! He was the vice president of Rotary International at one point, which I can’t stress enough is an incredible accomplishment. While I’ve certainly learned plenty from Sonny, I think the key takeaway I learned from him about leadership was that it’s not about how great you can talk but about how great can you listen. Leadership, at its core, requires service above self. What can you do for others and how can you help them reach their goals?
We often think that being a great leader has so much to do with charisma, energy, and managing others. While these are factors, none are above how well you can support, understand, and uplift people. Sonny certainly excelled at this! He’s one of the best listeners I know and has this unique, authentic interest in getting to know others. I don’t mean just simple meetings and introductions but genuinely knowing people on a deeper, human level. I mean it when I say I want to be like Sonny when I grow up!
So, it was a fine opportunity when Sonny asked me to drive with him to the RYLA camp at the Manzano Mountain Retreat in New Mexico. At RYLA, I got to watch Sonny inspire Clayton and the other young men in attendance in much the same way that he inspired me through our relationship. I feel certain that Clayton and the other attendees learned about leadership and service through Sonny’s presence and example.
In my line of work, I have to be a leader to both my team and my clients. Yet, most lawyers don’t learn leadership skills in law school, so firm owners must learn through trial and error — and influential mentors. After decades of practice and help from leaders like Sonny, I learned that leadership is just service and helping others. Now, I can take what Sonny has taught me and pass it on to Clayton (and Claire and Winton), who’s shaping up to be an incredible leader.
Our job is to learn from the generation before us and pass it down to the next. I hope to be able to lead my children, and especially Clayton at this time as he navigates the end of his high school career and starts off on a family and career of his own. Of course, my learning journey isn’t over yet, and I’ll still go to Sonny for leadership advice for as long as possible.