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Reece:The path to becoming a great leader

Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

“The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born – that there is a genetic factor to leadership.That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born” – Warren Bennis

I‘ve been curious lately about what makes one want to become a leader. What is it about their past that makes them so successful in leading organizations? Certainly there is a definite skill set needed and that can be learned. But I think it goes deeper. I think a lot of it is the ability to remember where one came from.

I‘ve been reading the New York Times' “Corner Office” series by Adam Bryant. In many of the articles he asks those interviewed about their first experience in leadership. Many look back into their youth.

In one article he interviewed Ryan Smith, co-founder and CEO of Provo, Utah-based Qualtrics. Smith said that his parents raised him “with the mentality of 'if you want it, you’ve got to go out and get it.' I remember when I was 13, my mother dropped us off in downtown Provo one summer, about two miles from where we lived, and said, 'You guys are all paying for your clothes this year. Don’t come home until you have jobs.' They instilled in us the idea that 'you can be anything you want to be, but you’re going to have to go do it.'"

In another interview, G.J. Hart, executive chairman, CEO and president of California Pizza Kitchen, said, “Our family came to America from the Netherlands when I was young, and I had to work that much harder in any situation. I had to learn English. I had to try that much harder to be a normal kid. I went to a pretty affluent high school where the kids’ parents were doctors and lawyers and I’m a cop’s kid.”

He added, “I worked at a poultry processing plant during college. I worked my way up, and became general manager of the plant when I was 21, overseeing 500 people. I had done pretty much every role in the operation. That was a big advantage, knowing and living what people do every day. That allows me to understand people and help them grow.”

Tony Tjan, chief executive of Cue Ball, stated that his first leadership experience was “when I was probably about 16 or 17. We lived in Newfoundland, and I was a distribution representative for a multilevel marketing company. I had to recruit other distributors and train them, and it was my first experience trying to understand how to motivate people. I often ask, 'Have you sold anything when you were young?' Because I will never forget selling door-to-door at age 15 in Toronto. You grow thicker skin. Rejection early is good, because you get used to it.”

I wish for myself I could pin down exactly how I got here. There was no “master plan.” I was never a leader in school (especially high school), in fact, quite the opposite. I grew up in a normal middle class household, where my parents taught us to be self-reliant and that we could be anything we wanted to be. I also know that I began to realize my leadership ability through Jaycees in my early 20s, which led to running the local festival, to starting a business (and continue to run) where all that eventually rolled into my leading the chamber.

But even today, I still never tire of reading and learning about others and their paths to becoming great leaders. We can always get better.

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Join us today for an after-hours multi-chamber “It’s All About Kids” mixer hosted at 31 North Banquet and Conference Center, 217 N. Front St., McHenry. Then on March 12, join us for another multi-chamber “March Madness” mixer hosted by United Way of McHenry County, 4508 Prime Pkwy., McHenry. Mixers are from 5 to 7 p.m. and all Crystal Lake chamber members as well as their guests are invited to attend.

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Please welcome our newest members! 4 Strings Attached, Martin Lopez; A Freedom Flag Co. Inc., Dennis O'Donnell; Animal Emergency of McHenry County, Ross Oliver; Cutting Edge Carpets & Floors, Paul Ciezak; Delta Consulting Group LLC, Carol Dougherty; Fiona's Finds, Jenny Dalzell; Garden Guidance by Mary, Mary Bjork; Gypsy's Gourmet Goodies, Sharon Shriver; Kiddie Academy of Crystal Lake, Kelli Figurski; Landstar Construction, Jesse Slone; McHenry County Recorder, Phyllis K. Walters; Medical Associates of Crystal Lake, Cindy Holtz; Pacific Vein Care, Kathy Condon; Penny Perry Consulting, Penny Perry; Successful Endeavor Inc., Cindy Joslun; Wholesome Tummies of Greater Chicago, Jennifer Bychowsky; Windy City Strategies Inc., Bjorn Torling; Windy City Web Designs, Bjorn Torling.

• Gary Reece is president of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce. Email garyreece@clchamber.com.

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