During my first few career decades, there were only two situations and two years where I didn’t serve in a capacity responsible for others. One was an 18-month hitch with a prestigious firm where I served as staff. Yes, I was the “jerk” from corporate. The other experience was the first six months of my career after graduating from college. I was too busy trying to get the last word in my title of product specialist trainee scrubbed from my business card, to worry about leading a team.

Once free of the shackles of the label: trainee, I was moved into the role of supervisor (guess I made a good impression, and they were desperate), and I started my leadership journey, albeit without much guidance. The missteps were epic.

A testament to my early lack of success is the seemingly endless supply of cases I have created for workshops and leadership programs based on my early career mistakes. Thinly disguising myself in these cases and listening as program participants easily dissect this witless young manager’s mistakes never grows old!

Lesson Learned—As a Leader, You Profoundly Impact the Lives of Others:

In spite of wandering through the leadership woods without a guide or a license, I managed to learn a few valuable lessons along the way. Perhaps the most important: serving in the role of leader affords a unique opportunity to impact the lives of others. Of course, you hope the impact is positive!

In addition to being a slow starter on the leadership front, I have only one mildly creative skill: I’m excellent at mulching gardens. Give me 10 yards of shredded hardwood mulch, a coal shovel, wheelbarrow and robust rake, and I guarantee the results will be fantastic. However, in spite of my limited talents, I have a great appreciation for the output of those who lead. It’s a mural painted by those they impact during their careers.

Ripple Effects and Your Leadership Mural:

The work of effective leaders is appreciated by all of us at the moment and truly valued in hindsight.

Think about the individual who gave you a chance at a role you were not ready for at the time. Chances are you flailed a lot, failed a little, and thanks to this individual’s faith in you, ultimately succeeded.

I love the idea that people with roles and labels rivaling my trainee period are now executives, business owners, CEOs, and wildly successful in their lives.

Hiring the interns in one firm turned into another firm’s bonanza of senior marketing talent two decades later.

Hiring the young industry expert and giving him a stage and a role for a few years helped him reach his rightful role as CEO of a firm in an industry he loves so much.

The sales manager I busted down to representative showed the world his talents as he broke all visible records. I handed him an award I was so proud of him. He continues to break records.

The development executive who faced a change-or-leave situation opted to change in an entirely new solo role, exceeding everyone’s expectations with his performance.

The people who had no background in my industry who joined, challenged and changed the status quo and have carved out remarkable careers, helped paint vivid images on the mural.

The team I was a part of who collaborated and converged on a decision that led to a changed industry, and many changed lives, is part of the mural.

Your Decisions Cue the Next Image on Your Leader’s Mural:

Group of people painting a wall credit: Jon SullivanThere are failures and less joyful images on my mural as there are on any leader’s. Things go wrong, in spite of your positive intentions and diligence. However, the mural that unfolds over time and with new images and branches starting with one of your decisions is a thing of beauty.

There’s just one challenge. You have no idea what pictures will be painted on the wall when you make the decisions. They unfold over time and in your rear-view. In reality, the long-range implications are not on your mind. Perhaps they should be.

My counsel is for today and every day, take a few moments to remind yourself of the significance of your work and the impact your decisions have on the lives of those you touch. This reflection shouldn’t sway you from making the right or hard or timely decisions, but it must remind you that your actions create a ripple effect that resonates for years and sometimes for entire careers.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

As a leader, others paint your mural. You simply provide the canvas.

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Leadership Books by Art Petty