By Sam Geraci, Strategy Vice President, American Family Insurance
For much of the 20th century, AT&T’s Bell Labs was one of the most successful commercial laboratories in the United States. It invented the silicon semi-conductor, the laser, mobile phones, solar cells and more.
Its employees won Nobel prizes, founded Silicon Valley and served as scientific advisers to numerous U.S. presidents. Over the years, Bell employees were granted a large number of patents.
At one point, AT&T did a study to discover the secrets to its most successful employees’ ability to obtain so many commercially viable patents. What did they have in common? Intelligence? Work ethic?
A lot was at stake if an answer could be found. AT&T’s detailed study revealed only one common thread shared by their most valuable employees: They were all friends with an engineer named Harry Nyquist.
Mr. Nyquist didn’t have a leadership title, but he was a good listener and he “drew people out, got them thinking.” He asked good questions. He mentored a lot of people and may have been able to connect people to each other.
That got me thinking about my experience in mentoring people. There are three ways to be a mentor or leader:
- The first is to lead by example and excel at your job. This could be called “me” leadership.
- The second is to help your team succeed. Let’s call this “we” leadership.
- The third is to help others succeed from behind the scenes. This is “you” or “thee” leadership. By mentoring others and helping them succeed, “thee” leaders make everyone better. They help people refine their ideas. They create bridges within organizations so that different parts of a large organization support each other.
Anyone can be a “thee” leader. Harry Nyquist wasn’t a genius, but he was an empathetic person who knew science well enough to help other scientists succeed.
Employees at any level of the organization can mentor and be a “thee” leader. It’s a great opportunity to network, support others and help American Family reach its goals. Over time, building relationships can have a long-lasting positive impact on the company, on those you mentor and on you. You’ll see that those positive impacts will start to add up.
Leaders can be found at all levels of the enterprise. It’s a mindset. An approach toward working with others. It’s not a title.
If you want to be a stronger leader, consider this approach in your daily interactions. Make it a goal to demonstrate “me,” “we” and “thee” leadership in more than one interaction. Before long, teammates will start to think of you when they think of true leadership.