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Thursday, August 13, 2015

True Leaders Inspire You to Become Your Best Self

Judith L Smith-Foote with Former President Bill Clinton 2012
'If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.' John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the United States

Transitioning from 'You're NOT the Boss of me' to allowing others to bring out your best

I don't know about you, but I've been in the presence of greatness and it profoundly influenced my life. My entire adult life has been deeply influenced by one woman--Judith L Smith-Foote--the one shaking hands with former President Bill Clinton.

Now I know when you see her shaking hands with Clinton you already know she's someone special--but that's not what she was doing the day I met her so many years ago.

When we first met, Dr. Smith was a new Professor at UCLA and I was a new student intent on making my own way without people telling me what to do.

There I was--stumbling along in college--doing my best to avoid being tracked down by administrators who wanted to dictate the order I should take classes--in full-out 'you're not the boss of me' mode'--when I slipped into my first Human Anatomy class with Dr. Smith.

I was mesmerized  by her from the start--and didn't even notice the moment I effortlessly opened the 'you're-not-the-boss-of-me' door to allow her influence to take hold. Her greatness snuck up on me, and at first I didn't recognize her to be the person who was to become my greatest teacher, mentor and influencer. I just knew she was an exceptional teacher.

Finally, here was a teacher who commanded my attention, not because she told me to pay attention to her, but because she inspired me. Unlike so many other Professors who were clearly enamored with themselves, she was straightforward and unassuming. She was an extraordinary role model who had a way of presenting things in an upbeat, positive manner that captured my heart and imagination.

Through her own inquisitive, unselfconscious nature, she opened me up to my own excitement. As she lead the class, artfully keeping our focus on systems and structures, my own self-consciousness about other people's expectations fell away and was replaced with an internally-driven and expectant excitement about learning.  I would leave her class loving anatomy and marveling at the beauty of the human body.

The Moment I Chose to Follow

I still remember the moment in time when I decided this anatomy teacher was going to be my ultimate teacher and chosen leader. She flexed her elbow and said, "Your elbow joint enjoys a full range of motion."

It sounds so silly to admit this was the turning point, but her simple statement had the most profound effect on me. I was fascinated by the idea my body enjoys moving and it gave me an incredible sense of freedom. It was in this moment I connected with this outwardly serious woman whose focus on the enjoyment of learning and living came through in everything she did.

The Key to Being a Leader who motivates

We are always listening for answers to our unspoken questions and quest for direction in life.  When I met Judith Smith-Foote it was one of those life-changing moments that helped to open me up to be the person I am.

In that critical time of self-consciousness, when I was questioning who I was and how to live up to my potential I met this woman who was a serious scientist on the outside yet a fun-loving, whimsical person on the inside. While I wasn't consciously aware of it at the time this was an inside out mirror of me--soft and silly on the outside, serious and thoughtful on the inside.  She was the right person to become my teacher, mentor, influencer--and friend.

Under her tutelage I learned to communicate in a positive way, and to facilitate other's learning to allow them to think for themselves. 

By working with Judith, I discovered the key to being a leader who motivates: Get the focus off you--it isn't about what a brilliant teacher you are--it is about inspiring others to tap into their own abilities and excitement.

I watched as she artfully demonstrated over and over again how to open people up to learn for themselves; be their best selves; and bring their best. She set up the lessons, showed people where to look, and then got out of the way. She made room for students to excel and enjoy learning.

Bill Clinton being interviewed by Judith L Smith-Foote

A Leader's Rise to the Top

At the beginning of 2013, I had the honor of attending the celebration of Dr. Smith-Foote's 43 years at UCLA, serving as Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education in her final position.

Judith is an amazing woman who has dedicated her life to education and opening up opportunities for others. In her parting words and actions at her retirement dinner at the Chancellor's residence I saw exactly what I saw 40 years ago when I first encountered her in the anatomy class--perfect pitch for understanding human nature, leadership and communication. 

She was gracious and graceful as she took the spotlight off herself and put it back on the people in the room. The extraordinary person she is shone through her humble, understated manner.

When I asked her what's next on the horizon I knew her answer would contain the same element of joy and excitement I saw 40 years ago. She said:
'Retirement is the time you pay yourself to do things you absolutely love.'

Like all great leaders,  she didn't start out trying to be great. She simply lived her life with focus and passion--and along the way her actions inspired the rest of us to dream more, learn more, do more and become more.

And for those of us who have been touched by her we are grateful for the privilege of being able to sit alongside her and learn from her example.

A 'Foote' Note

This post was first published in 2013. I felt compelled to revisit it to publicly honor one of the finest women I have ever known.  Whenever I think about how fortunate I was to have Judith influence my life I stand taller and am motivated to do for others what she did for me: inspire them to be their best selves. The world is a better place because of Judith L Smith-Foote.

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For more than 30 years, Susan Meyerott has been helping people lighten up and step over invisible barriers to change one step at a time. She speaks to your heart, puts you at ease, and makes changing easier than ever before.

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1 comment:

Jean | said...

What a lovely tribute! I wish all young people could have such an inspiring teacher in their lives.