The minister of our congregation, of which I have been a part of for over 25 years, led the service for the last time this past weekend. I thought a lot about what she would say and how memorable this particular Sunday would be for us all.

Often, when leaders leave, there is too little attention placed on their departure. Click To Tweet

No matter how someone leaves, memories are created. It is worth considering what best serves the organization and the person departing.

I share this with you not because the woman I write about is a minister but because she is a leader; she is a capable and courageous leader. She stands up to injustice and provides a steady hand on the rudder of the administrative (think boring) aspects of a congregation. I had the privilege of serving as president of the Board of Trustees while she was our minister. I learned as much about leadership from her as I have from any CEO. This shouldn’t be a surprise for two reasons. First, in her earlier professional life, she ran a marketing communications company that represented Fortune 500 companies and others. Second, leading any organization requires courage, judgment, and fortitude, no matter what type it is.

Reverend Terry Davis exhibits the critical aspects of high-stakes leadership. While writing my recently released book, High-Stakes Leadership, I often spoke with her about my work. She offered the kind of sincere encouragement everyone hopes to receive when working on a major project. In addition to support, I gained even more insight into her beliefs about leadership; beliefs I had seen in action over several years.

What are the key lessons anyone can glean from Reverend Terry Davis?

  1. Honor what you are called to do. Reverend Davis listened to the call to ministry. She didn’t leap wholesale into it but pursued it gradually, until she made the big leap. Interestingly, her path was similar to that taken by the founders of the wildly successful company Warby-Parker. This is contrary to the popular belief that “going all in” is necessary and indicative of determination.
  2. Use a systemic, deliberate approach when planning. My working relationship with Reverend Davis benefitted greatly from her systemic thinking, a characteristic she shares with other talented leaders whom I’ve worked with. This is more than an ability or tendency. It is also a discipline that can be learned, taught, and strengthened. The benefits are tremendous.
  3. Show empathy and maintain boundaries. Listening and acknowledging others views, even when they diverge from our own, is important. Equally important is maintaining appropriate boundaries. Listening and empathizing doesn’t mean that the listener is ceding responsibility or authority. Caring about others does not mean sacrificing your own wellbeing or happiness.
  4. How a leader departs is as important as how they ascend. Reverend Terry Davis’s departure was deliberate and dignified. She took her leave as she needed to and took care to remind us of our strengths, abilities, and achievements that will serve us well into the future.

This is how leaders behave when they are courageous, use good judgment, and have the strength of character necessary for fortitude. There is an element of grace, thus, describing a leader like Reverend Terry Davis is like both prose and poetry.

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