What Makes a Leader Memorable?

by | Feb 20, 2021 | Blog

They believe in you. They care about your success.

Memorable Leaders Have Common Attributes

To answer the question, “What Makes a Leader Memorable?” think back in your own life to a leader you’ve had whom you loved – someone who made a huge impact in your life. 

Maybe it was a teacher, maybe a coach, maybe a mentor, maybe an Uncle or an Aunt, or maybe a teammate. The list could go on.

Think back and envision this person and think about the one attribute this person had that makes you feel the way you do about them?

My Answer

My answer to that question is my sixth-grade teacher – Miss Sybil Seward.

It was a cold wet Oregon Saturday morning, October 1, 2005. I wore a thick waterproof coat. I hunkered under two blankets and an umbrella while sitting in my lawn chair and watching my ten-year-old daughter play soccer.

A friend of mine approached me and informed me that Miss Sybil Seward had passed away and that her memorial service had been held earlier that morning. My eyes began to mist, as they do now at this writing, over the memory of the greatest sixth grade teacher the world has ever known. I began to wish that somehow there was more room in my busy life to observe when the truly important things were happening. This was one of those. My heart sank that I had not been aware of her condition, of her battle with cancer, or of her recent passing. I felt a strong reminder come into my mind that what really matters in life is people.

I may very well have learned that principle from Miss Seward. She came along in my life at just the right time. I do not know how the others felt, but as one of her many students in her 1973 sixth grade class, she made me feel like I was a superstar. Well, actually, that is what she called all of her students. We were Seward’s Superstars.

Miss Seward built others with a positive appreciation for the greatness in them. She was never cross or angry. She celebrated every good thing, small or large, and her exuberance made you want to celebrate right along with her. She pulled you into her high-energy delight, which she had for every person’s success.

It was from Miss Seward that I first had the notion that I could be somebody. Up to that point in my inconsistent academic career I was at best a very average student. Yet, somehow my first report card from Miss Seward was all A’s. Straight A’s…can you imagine? I sure couldn’t. I had never dreamed of such a thing. I am quite confident that I earned those A’s, though I don’t remember how. I know I earned them because she would never have given them to me otherwise. Miss Seward had integrity. I believe it was her approach as a teacher and a leader that coaxed all of those A’s out of me. In that first report card period she sat down with my mother and told her that I would be the President of my class. That also was something that was outside of my ability to even dream about. But to show that she could see what others couldn’t, and because of her confidence and encouragement, six years later I was, in fact, the Senior Class President.

Miss Seward had simple ways to make people feel special and to reinforce her teachings. Her model helped her students love learning and caused us to be excited to show her what we learned. Miss Seward kept a jar of chocolates on her desk and the jar never seemed to go empty. By the way, “Four score and seven years ago, our Father’s brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” is something we memorized in her class. Her method for recognizing achievement for great work, such as memorizing and reciting the entire Gettysburg address, created a strong incentive for us all to increase our personal performance.

I mentioned Miss Seward’s unending supply of chocolates. She knew just when to use those so that they remained special. She understood the value of praise in front of one’s peers and she found ways to praise her students in front of other leaders. I remember seeing the disbelief in the eyes of one of my former teachers as Miss Seward made a point to tell him about something I recently did that was outstanding.

Leadership is a Relationship

Joanne B. Ciulla said that leadership is “a complex moral relationship between people, based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and a shared vision of the good.”

Miss Seward intuitively understood the magic of that kind of leadership.

I know many special teachers and they all have a place in my heart; but, somehow, a big part of who I am is because of a sixth grade teacher who saw in me what I had not yet seen in myself. She saw in me someone who could become something.

What Makes a Leader Memorable to You?

We would love to hear what makes a leader memorable to you? It would be fun for us to all compare answers. Feel free to share your answer in the comments section of this post.

Become a Memorable Leader

Leaders who care about our success become memorable to us. Being able to care for others is a quality needed in our modern world. Take the time to be a memorable leader to someone in your life.

Continue Learning

Learn more about this topic in our LeaderPod series.

Article Written by Dr. Gordon Whitehead

Article Written by Dr. Gordon Whitehead

Founder of Leaders247

Gordon Whitehead is the founder of Leaders247 and specializes in leadership and organizational development with a particular interest in helping emerging leaders accelerate their leadership growth.

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