“Getting the most out of life isn’t about how much you keep for yourself, but how much you pour into others.” David Stoddard
I have had many people inspire me throughout my career. However, one individual has served all roles of an advisor to me as I have needed it through the years. He is my mentor because he offers advice to me based on his similar experiences and knowledge.
My uncle Grady Ash is truly a man of strong character and has never done anything meekly. He always approaches any challenge with confidence and to the tenth power. He will be the first to tell me, “I may not have all the answers, but I will certainly tell you what I know rather than what I think.” Grady is a friend, role model, a listener I can trust and someone who is proud of my success and encourages me to achieve even greater accomplishments. What inspires me the most about his character is that he is not only these things to me but also to everyone with whom he comes in contact.
A businessman and innovator from Oklahoma, Grady shares his wisdom to foster growth in others. He has taught me how a leader’s core values must align with their employers in order for true success to be realized. He has given me the encouragement and confidence to do what I am doing today.
He can often be heard cheering his many followers on by reminding them, “The view is better from the top; you just need to keep climbing.”
He once shared a story with me about being the president of a company in Houston in 1979, nearly 40 years ago. The owner of the company requested something of him that he was not going to be able to deliver. He told the owner that it was not in line with his vision and added that perhaps if that was the new path of the company, they should find a new leader to command the charge of that mission.
The owner assured Grady that would not be the case and to continue on with his vision. However, to his surprise, the owner called him later that night and said he was going to take him up on the offer to resign because the company was moving in a new direction.
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” Henry David Thoreau
Grady pursued his passion when his core values no longer aligned with those of the company.
He took his own advice when he began his own company in 1979. Today, it’s one of the most successful companies in the state of Oklahoma. Texas A&M University dedicated a new building in honor of his many accomplishments in August 2014. The H. Grady Ash Leadership Learning Center will be a lasting tribute to my mentor. I am confident that one day I will be speaking there and sharing my story, his story and our story.
Grady often emphasizes to me that many mountains are in the distance, and I just need to pick one and begin climbing upward and onward. He suggested that I think about an even taller mountain, a higher calling.
He gave me the confidence to leave my position at a bank where I had been employed for 26 years to pursue a career in professional development and real estate full-time. His encouraging words pushed me to the top of my current mountain and allowed me to see a new frontier in the distance. It was the first time I had ever heard someone tell me they truly believed in me.
I had to face my fear of losing control of my daily routine and a fear of rejection as I didn’t want my employer to be upset with me for leaving. I was giving up the security of going to work every day, which had become the foundation of my identity.
The fear of failure loomed heavy. I was moving outside of my comfort zone into the risk zone, where all change, growth and transformation occur. It is the place where all fears exist but also the only place where true leadership can develop.
In spite of the fears, I was eager to take that step into the unknown. I had to summon my courage and be willing to experience the possibilities without allowing panic to paralyze me.
We all need advisors who have been on the path before us and can offer their wisdom and experience in the form of mentoring. Mentors are important in our lives because without them we are limited to only our own experiences.
It’s important for everyone to find a Grady in their life and more importantly to be one in the lives of others. He has listened, counseled, consoled and cheered me every step of the way. Mentoring never ends if you truly care about people, because success isn’t just about all you have accomplished in life. It’s also about those you inspire along the way.
Surround yourself with people who can serve as mentors on your leadership journey. When we inspire others to motivate themselves, then they will be great traveling companions on this successful journey.
A mountaintop can be a lonely place if you don’t take others with you. To me, that is what an inspiring leader is: someone who takes pleasure in seeing the best qualities in another unleashed.
True Leaders Earn Loyalty
When I attended Grady’s 80th birthday celebration in 2013, I was touched by the many people, including his employees, who shared personal stories of how he has impacted their lives. I remember feeling so proud to be sitting next to him and thinking this is the top of a mountain and I am sharing this view with him. He has touched more lives than anyone I know. It truly brought tears to my eyes to hear just a portion of what his words and actions had done for people.
His employees’ reaction to his leadership was more inspiring than any speech I have heard, conference I have attended or book I have read. They sincerely thanked him for building such an amazing company for them.
One employee said, “When I first came to work here, on special occasions, he would take the time to write little notes on employees’ paycheck stubs. One of the first notes he wrote to me said, “We’re glad you’re here. Welcome to the A-team!’”
Another said, “The one thing I really love about working with him is that I know no matter what decision he makes, it’s always from the heart. He’s always doing what he thinks is best so it’s always a pleasure working with him.”
It’s this kind of leadership style that has taught me that leaders who see the world from the vantage point of others know that when they are improving the lives of others they have found their true calling.
Great leaders don’t set out to be a leader, they set out to make a difference.