Everyone Has a Teacher or Leader Who Truly Inspired Them

She’s one of the best vocal teachers I’ve ever met. I know I would never have been able to do any of it if it hadn’t been for Ms. Watson.”

I am always a sucker for a good story. I relish reading them and try and always weave the importance into learning points.

Ms. Gabrielyn Watson-Foster was a vocal teacher in Chicago at Morgan Park High School who gave it her all. Through the years, most teachers witness many young people come through their rooms on their initial journey through life. In many cases, students — all of us, really — move in and, except for the fleeting thought, forget about them.

Like much of life, it all becomes a distant memory.

“Everyone has a teacher who had a lasting impact on their life”

This story was different in that Kleenex Caring Chorus used this premise in an advertisement. One of Ms. Watson-Foster’s former students heard about her health issues. He rounded up so many of her former students that she was told to come to the school for what she thought was a teacher interview.

As she walked into the building, that student started singing and came from around the corner into the hallway. As she looked on in wonderment, other former students came out of classrooms.  Within a matter of minutes, the hallways were full of her students signing at the top of their voices.

Trust me, you cannot watch this video without reaching for a Kleenex.

A long-lasting connection

When I facilitate my leadership development course, one of the exercises we work through is about people that have made a difference in our lives.

The question is: Think back through your life and think of the one person who truly made a difference. For the most part, the answer comes back to a particular teacher, parent, or manager early in a person’s career.

One of the interview techniques that I use to try and get a sense of how well a manager connects with his or her people is to review past jobs and ask them how many of these people at that point in their lives they still keep in touch with.

Great managers for the most part are still connected to people from years and jobs past.

The Art of Engagement is inspiring people and making a difference in people’s live. That could be boosting morale, showing loyalty, listening, or what I call connecting through the heads, hearts and hands. Those are the three points to make it stick.

The problem is that you can’t just turn this on when the need arises; you must live eat and breath this technique.

Ms. Watson-Foster had no ulterior motive. She was not looking for what was in it for her.

She just wanted all of her students to succeed, whether that be as a vocalist in high school, or, on the journey of life. Success was what she instilled into them as their ultimate destination.

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Good karma flows to the organization

Imagine if we could ingrain this level of thinking throughout all of our organizations.

I had one CEO tell me once that it was important for his organization to develop all their people to the best that they could be. His thought was that even if they did not stay with the organization, they left a better person on their journey.

He wanted most of all for them to have a positive experience at his company on their career journey. He believed in karma in that it would all flow back to his organization. Not many senior leaders would even let that thought come into their space.

In many cases, boosting employee morale, job satisfaction, and loyalty materializes once you get people engaged with their heads, hearts, and hands in the organization. That isn’t something an organization can just “turn on.”  The 3 H’s of success — head, habit, hard work — are based on soft skills which should be the most important interview filter for any manager today.

It really is simple

My four (4) keys to being an effective leader, mentor, teacher, coach or whatever you want to call yourself, is to live by these in your every day interaction with people regardless of their status.

They are:

  1. I trust you.
  2. Thank you.
  3. What do you think?
  4. How can I help?

Master those four concepts and you too may become a leader in the mold of Ms. Watson-Foster.

In my life, I say kudos to my favorite teacher, Ms. Lillie Moses, who was an inspiration to me.


Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


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