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The Privilege of Being a Leader: What I Learned

Updated: May 30

Leadership is a privilege. Why? Because it can literally change someone's life.


The Privilege of Being a Leader

by Carolyn Opher Mozell


Holding some of the highest staff level leadership positions in local government for over 20 years, I learned early on that leadership is a privilege. It can literally change someone's life. I’ve seen it happen; I’ve made it happen. Although I'm an entrepreneur who consults and coaches on leadership, communications engagement, and building better business relationships now, my previous experience taught me to be grateful for each day that I got the privilege to use my gift of leadership to improve the quality of someone’s life. Even now…I continue to set my intention daily to lead with compassion, integrity and accountability, and embrace the privilege of being a leader, and the opportunity I get to share what I’ve learned along the way. If you’re like me, you’ve learned that climbing the leadership ladder does not come with instructions on how to do the very thing that will make you an effective leader: getting humans to be inspired and motivated to bring their highest and best efforts to their work with a smile! I’m not saying it has to be that perfect, but if you’re doing it right, your people will have your back, believe in their contribution to the work, and think twice before doing anything that jeopardizes the integrity of it. I’m going to share with you how I was able to do it right during my over 20 years of leadership experience by understanding the gravity of the privilege I was given and using it to build a daily practice to create a culture of compassion, integrity and accountability. These three core values continue to guide the way I lead to this day. Building a culture of compassion. It’s getting better, but when some people think of leading with compassion, they think it just means being nice to people. In the era I grew up in, it meant telling someone what to do and creating some type of punishment if they didn’t do it. In fact, I once had a leader that would get me excited about a project and then tell me the punishment if I didn’t get it done correctly. I’m not sure how they thought that approach incentivized me to do my best, as it made me feel defeated before I even got started. I always left the room thinking…was that really necessary? Where is the leadership to make sure I stay motivated and inspired to bring my best work, especially in a work environment that was fast-moving and ever-changing. The Takeaway: Build a culture of compassion by being a leader with compassion. Building a Culture of Integrity. I’ve always lived by the words…”say what you mean and mean what you say.” Establishing yourself as a leader who keeps their word is so important to building a team that can rely on you to always do what is right. Even when they may not agree with your decision, I’ve found that if people trust you to do what is right, they will feel comfortable supporting your decisions. I was chief of staff during a time when all heck had broken loose, people’s livelihoods were in danger and their work world as they knew it, did a 360-degree turn. As a leader, it was important for me to immediately establish myself to those who did not know me and reassure those who did, that I was a leader who had their best interest at heart and would do everything I could to make sure they were kept informed about the changes that affected them personally. This work took intentional, consistent and frequent communication and creating an environment where people could be comfortable speaking freely about how the change impacted them. I was also intentional about helping them to understand that everyone’s job was essential to the end result: excellent customer service and delivery. Although no one had died, I treated the situation as if there was a loss and gave people space to grieve in their own special way. The end result is that people told me that they had never felt so supported by their leader, even though their world had turned upside down; they trusted me as their leader and made every effort to bring their best work to the organization under the circumstances.

The Takeaway: Build a culture of integrity, by modeling behavior that establishes you as a person who can be relied upon to do what is right. Building a Culture of Accountability. According to the New York Times bestseller, The Oz Principle, accountability is the “personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results.” So, as a leader how do you build a culture of accountability within your organization? Well, here’s what I did. I learned to delegate. Learning to delegate was one of the hardest transitions for me going from employee to leader. I was an expert in my work and was used to doing everything myself. I had the mindset of…if I do it myself, I know it will be done right. Wrong! That totally does not work when you lead a team…even if it’s a team of one. When the size of the teams I led began to grow, I had to accept that I could not do everything myself and there were capable people in the organization who were getting a paycheck to do their part to make the organization successful. So, after a heart to heart meeting I had with myself (lol), I learned to let go. I learned that to build a culture of accountability, I first had to demonstrate that I was an accountable leader; and second, I had to trust that, given clear direction, my team would deliver. It was important for me to be the example. I made sure people saw me start what I finished and produce work that was the utmost professional in quality. I set the tone and conveyed that same expectation when assigning projects. Actually, one staff member once told me, they would often say to themselves…“what would Carolyn do?” They wanted to make sure that they were delivering a thoroughly thought out quality work product that they, as well as I could be proud of and that made our department shine. This mindset helped people grow professionally, and in some cases, uncover skills they didn’t even know they had. In fact, some were able to successfully position themselves to pursue new job opportunities, both internally and externally. Although it was always bittersweet to lose a great team member, I felt grateful to be part of their growth. The Takeaway: Set the tone for accountability, demonstrate it and convey your expectation for the same. As I've demonstrated, the type of leader you decide to be can literally change someone’s life. The spectrum of your impact is great…from impacting someone’s livelihood to impacting the type of leader they will one day become. Your leadership is your legacy. The time is now for you to chart a path to embrace your leadership privilege and establish your leadership legacy. The Takeaway: By virtue of being in a leadership position, every leader will have a leadership legacy. What will you leadership legacy be?


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