My first leadership lessons came from supportive parents. My mother had a particularly strong influence on me and how I deal with people. She was an amazing people person, often using conversation and empathy to uplift those around her. Her side of the family, which I most resemble, is very open and gregarious, full of preachers and salespeople, occupations right up my alley in many respects.
But my community also helped shape me. We were a small family—I was an only child—but our extended family was the close-knit rural area of Salem, Georgia, full of kindhearted people who took care of one another. They were in and out of our house, and we in theirs. We took food to the sick, and if someone had a problem, neighbors rallied around for support. These people taught me that the world is bigger than any one person. A great leader is a shepherd; you are in charge of people’s lives, and your work should ultimately be about helping them rather than yourself.
Related: The 5 Traits of Great Future Leaders
Early in my career, I discovered the motivational power of family. I was rudderless, working at a job I disliked. But when I met my future wife and saw a friend’s promising career, I felt a surge of competitiveness. I knew I wanted to succeed and be seen as a success. My wife and I would eventually want to buy a house and start a family. It was time to get moving. I started working on my MBA at night and responded to a newspaper ad for the company I would later help run.
Family should be a tool that drives you to do better and push harder.
Wanting a serious career was a huge incentive for me to change, but the idea of family was the primary motivator. Far too often people use their family commitments as an excuse to stay where they are, but family should be a tool that drives you to do better and push harder.
Becoming a parent underscored that lesson.
I want to be the go-to person for my children and grandchildren. I want to be regarded as the person who increased the family’s opportunities by what I did, the person who left them a legacy. Central to that, however, is the notion that they must succeed on their own terms, because being born on third base doesn’t mean they’ve hit a triple.
I try to influence them to go after their goals; I try to be a motivator and a positive role model. Most of all, I have tried to support my kids for who they are and help them find their own paths. You need to be the best you can be and understand that your children are individuals and very different from you.
That kind of leadership applies across the board. We might be a family or a community or a business, but we are also a group of individuals, and leaders are role models for that group. That’s how I treat everyone. I want people to follow me by what I do, not what I tell them to do.