Early in my career as a director in the public service (around a dozen years ago), I hired a keen young intern named Gabriela Klimes. She was what you would call a dream intern.

She was eager to learn, full of ideas and energy, and willing to try almost anything. It was a great deal of fun having her on the team, because she energized all of us with her enthusiasm. She was instrumental in getting some pretty significant projects off the ground that year, including getting some commemorative signs on downtown streets (that she had designed and asked the city to hang), and organizing a regional youth writing contest that got national attention. (Incidentally, she stuck around after her internship year because I couldn’t bear to let her go.)

Gabby is now a director in the public service herself, and, much like the stage I was at when I hired her, she is also a mom to two small girls.

Yesterday I got a note from Gabby, offering a blurb for my testimonials page. I got totally choked up when I read it.

“I interned for Heather straight out of University. To some, intern may mean coffee runs and photocopying. But that was certainly not the case working for Heather. She entrusted me with real projects and put faith and trust into my ability to accomplish those projects. I cannot express how empowering that was to a young person in her first real professional environment. When I think back on working with Heather, it’s not boss or manager that come to mind, but leader and mentor and friend. Heather’s gentle encouragement of me to spread my wings literally began charting my career in a direction I never planned or imagined. Today, I am a relatively new manager of people and I recently hired my first intern. I have literally aspired to be the same type of leader for this young person that Heather was for me. And that is perhaps the biggest compliment to Heather’s leadership.

The fact that someone as talented and smart as Gabby is would model her leadership after me is the highest praise I could imagine. Years ago I remember reading something that said that we should always lead as though we assume (and hope) those we lead will some day out-shine us. That’s how I always felt about Gabby – totally honoured that I could be part of her journey to greatness, and quite certain she would out-shine me some day.

The truth is, I learned as much from Gabby as she learned from me. By responding so well to my leadership and my trust in her, she helped me see that I really could be a leader even when I didn’t yet know it myself. When she joined the team, I knew intuitively that I could trust her with big projects and she never let me down. In that experience, I learned that collaboration, trust, and intuition are some of the most valuable skills you can employ in leadership.

I also learned that the wisdom and vision in the room should never lie with the leader alone. If I hadn’t trusted Gabby with her amazing ideas and energy, we wouldn’t have accomplished nearly as much as we did. If I had insisted that my vision was the right one, she wouldn’t have produced half as much as she was capable of.

Whenever I teach classes or workshops, I tell my students some version of this: “Chances are you’ll be taking notes at some point in this class, and you’ll mostly be writing down the words that come out of my mouth – as though I have some exclusive claim on the wisdom in this room. Let me tell you up front – that is not the truth. I may have more experience in this area than you (and that’s why I’m getting paid to teach you), but I do not have all of the wisdom. The wisdom is shared by everyone in the room and I want you to take notes on every wise thing you hear in this classroom, whether it comes from a classmate’s mouth, your own, or mine.”

Whether you are the leader or the person being lead (or both, as most of us are), always remember that no one person could possibly hold all of the wisdom in the room. We ALL learn from each other and our collective wisdom is always greater than any of us could hold alone. Don’t even be fooled by people who publish books or have popular blogs – they don’t hold all of the wisdom either.

You learn from me and I will learn from you. You share your wisdom and I will share mine. Together we will shine brighter than we could alone.

Thank you Gabby for teaching me that so many years ago, and reminding me of it with your note yesterday.

Note: It is partly thanks to my experience with Gabby, and the many others who came after her, that I now serve as a Leadership Mentor. I would like to help you emerge into the leader you were called to be.

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