Jim Porter was one of the great mentors in my life. I tell stories about what I learned from him, but I was never able to answer the questions, “Why did Jim have such an impact on your life? What made him so great?” They seem like such simple questions. Of course, I would give an answer.
Some of the time I would say:
- He made me think.
- He never told; instead he asked questions.
- He would always tell a story to draw out a principle.
- He really cared about doing the right thing in business.
Then I would usually follow with:
- More importantly, Jim made me a better manager but, most importantly, a better man.
- He trusted me.
- He encouraged me.
- He was a genuine fan.
- He had high expectations for me.
All true, but none of these answers got to the essence of Jim’s greatness. It came to me recently during a conversation with a co-founder of a successful startup.
This co-founder is a man of faith, a gifted businessman, and a hard-charger. But he was also confused. He is surrounded by successful entrepreneurs, and he’s the next generation of soon-to-be famous entrepreneurs.
He told me, “My peers are all motivated by the typical success goals. They want to grow their companies, raise venture capital, achieve amazing exits, be recognized for their accomplishments, maybe even achieve stardom.”
“What’s wrong with that?” I asked.
“Nothing, really. It just isn’t important to me. So I feel out of step with everyone else. Maybe I don’t belong,” he said.
“All these people seem to be on a different page than I am. Maybe I should step away, focus on my family, and work remotely. This would allow someone who is motivated by these goals to take my position. They would probably be a better fit,” he continued.
“Is there anything you do that gives you fulfillment?” I asked.
“I like helping the people I work with succeed and grow in their careers. When they hit goals they’ve only dreamt about, that’s fulfilling to me,” he said.
“You build leaders!” I said.
“I guess so. Yes, that’s it. I never thought of it that way,” he said.
It was at that moment I realized why Jim Porter was such a great mentor. Like this co-founder, Jim built leaders. He was invested in me becoming an effective leader.
Jim would help me any way he could, including flying coast to coast to meet me for dinner to talk through my opportunities and challenges as a general manager.
Jim never took the credit. His joy was watching his young leaders succeed. That was his reward. That was his legacy.
I Finally Understand
I always wanted to be like Jim Porter but didn’t know how. Now I do. To be a great leader, I need to be intentional about building leaders. I will learn effective leadership by being focused on helping others lead.
We live in a world which is all about personal brand and rockstar entrepreneurs. Top 10 lists you just have to be on. Social media followers.
Leadership is all about the leader. This co-founder is following in the footsteps of Jim Porter. He wants to be the leader who is measured by the leaders he builds.
True leadership is servant leadership.
Also published on Medium.