When people ask me about my leadership journey, I refer back to 1969. At 12 years old, my mom, aka FANNY, was diagnosed with breast cancer. We lived in a small rural town in West Virginia. Our small little town offered limited education, poor economic conditions, and we were 30 to 45 minutes from the nearest hospital or major employer.
Back 50-some years ago, when a person was diagnosed with cancer, your immediate thought was the person will die. We thought the same would be true for mom. But she had other things in mind and felt that it was important to live her life fully until the good Lord took her away.
Mom embraced her cancer and followed the doctor’s orders and through the miracle of surgery and cancer treatment, mom survived 43 years beyond that awful summer. She taught me that my character would always be defined by choices not circumstances. FANNY was a great mentor.
In the 1940s, my parents adhered to traditional roles, mirroring the norm for couples of that era. Dad assumed the roles of protector and provider, while Mom embraced the responsibilities of nurturer and caregiver.
From her, I gleaned invaluable life lessons—guidelines on leadership and personal conduct that I now fondly refer to as “FANNY RULES.”
I brought these lessons together in the form of a mentoring book titled, FANNY RULES: A Mother’s Leadership Lessons that Never Grow Old. This book encapsulates nine transformative lessons that left an indelible mark on my life. I believe these principles are worth sharing, especially with purpose-driven leaders, irrespective of their role, title, or tenure within an organization.
FANNY RULES offers mentoring and leadership insights for anyone aspiring to enhance both their personal character and leadership skills. It presents a pragmatic approach to becoming an outstanding individual and an effective leader, serving as practical advice applicable in various scenarios.
My proceeds of the FANNY RULES book benefits the Alzheimer’s Association of South Carolina.
Don’t be an accidental leader. Be one of purpose and strength.
Mom was the type of woman who looked for the good in me and in others, always reminding us what we did well. If I could learn to identify and bring meaning to my strengths, I would have the ability to help others develop their strengths, too.
FANNY always said that focusing on one’s strengths allows us to see the very best in others and ourselves and that affirming people—giving them credit for who they are and who they would become in the future—is essential in developing their confidence and determination to succeed. This sweet lady had a God-given knack for building great relationships with young, old, rich or poor, black or white. And more times than not, she was good at it.
Good at it.
Mom had an unbelievable ability to relate to people. With a high degree of emotional intelligence, FANNY stressed the importance of building solid relations. She did this largely by managing how she processed others’ feelings and emotions and responded to them. Mom was a master mentor with a keen understanding of how people might feel in any situation.
Mom didn’t know the fancy terms like diversity, equity, inclusion, or emotional intelligence. What she knew, however, was how to treat people right regardless of demographics or stature. She knew how to listen, understand, and empathize, rarely putting herself ahead of another.
This did not mean she was perfect at relationships. FANNY said there were times when she had to eat a piece of humble pie. But those times were rare.
FANNY would also remind me that relationships could get messy from time to time. It would be hard work because people do try one’s patience at times. They don’t always respond exactly how you’d like them to or even how you think they will. However, if you persist and stay the course, in the end, it will be worth it.
In this chapter of the book, I share four Teachable Moments from FANNY. Today, I will share the first one, Remember the Dent, and in the next blog post I will impart the other three.
Remember the Dent
My brother-in-law, Ron, is five years younger than me. He recounted his earliest memory of Mom. At the time, V and I were in high school and had just started dating. Ron remembered coming over to our house one summer afternoon to hang out with my brother. Dad had worked for weeks repairing two old minibikes for us to ride around the property. He welded the hot-red frames to make sure they were sturdy and could take the dips, turns, and slope of the hillside. Dad even rebuilt the engines from spare parts of several old lawnmowers. They were so much fun to ride!
My brother-in-law’s story went like this:
“Troy’s brother and I decided to race each other up and down the hill on minibikes. After a quick lesson, we were off . To save face, I did not disclose that I had never ridden a vehicle with an engine. Literally, I had no idea of the power and the precision needed to safely guide this homemade all-terrain vehicle. Like most first-time lessons associated with learning how to ride a traditional bike, we spent a lot of my training on how to use the throttle and clutch. Before I had a chance to figure out how to stop this crazy thing, I heard these three words.
I looked toward the hill, gunned the engine, released the clutch, and took off. Troy’s brother shot off first straight for the target. My demon-possessed minibike had a mind of its own.
Within seconds, I was headed toward the side of the house, not the hill. My reflexes kicked into gear, but it was too late.
The foot-pedal of the minibike hit the corner of the house, denting the siding. I found myself lying flat, face down on the ground. Thankfully, the minibike had fallen away from me. Of course, Troy’s brother thought this was the coolest thing he had ever seen. He laughed so hard. I would have joined him if my pride had not just been crushed.
Troy’s mom came running out of the house, asking if I was okay. There was this nauseous feeling coming over me as she drew closer. I confessed what happened and how sorry I was. She hugged me, told me not to give it another thought, and suggested I could use some more training in the open field away from the house. She had a way about her that made me feel like I was another one of her kids. His mom showed me compassion and a Christ-like grace that let me know I was forgiven. She also refused to allow me to pay for any repairs.
As an adult, I learned FANNY decided not to fix the dent in the siding. She said it reminded her of that little boy. If she only knew today how thinking of that dent makes me think of her. FANNY was one of the kindest people I have ever had the honor of knowing.”
Mom helped the young boy, who had no ill-intent of destroying property, find courage, confidence, and determination to get back up and ride again. FANNY used that opportunity to remind my brother-in-law of his strength and not belittle him because of his weakness.
That’s how it is when leaders focus on strengths and not flaws. Our strengths, not the weaknesses, help us drive toward achieving our goals. Mentoring at its finest.
Remember the dent—symbolism is a powerful tool to express a belief in your future abilities. Oftentimes some quirky image reminds us of something or someone special. It is a token memory and brings forth an impactful experience that allows you to relive the event in your mind. When the event is positive, it helps you build confidence, a powerful strength.
Brainstorm moments in your life where you understood and were proud of your abilities. Remember that glowing feeling you felt within. Is there one symbol you can use to ignite the memory? Maybe you even have a photo of the moment? What about a physical item that can draw forth the memory?
In my blog post on motivation and systems that drive goal success, I shared a system that can be used alongside this teachable lesson. Mirror-Mirror aka “Post-It” occurs when you write on a Post-It note something you want to accomplish or what may be needed to do to achieve a goal. Then you hang the note somewhere you look often like the bathroom mirror, the side of computer, refrigerator, or on the nightstand.
My brother-in-law could write “Remember the Dent” on a post-it note that he sticks to his computer screen to remember the courage, confidence, and determination he felt in that moment that drove him to get back up and ride again.
If you have a photo of the memory or the symbol, hang that up in place of a post-it note. It could be a photo of a specific person, place, or thing that symbolizes a memory where you felt worthy, powerful, and confident.
What “dent” will you choose to remember?
For more insight on this topic, please refer to these blog posts:
For leadership principles that can be applied today, click here to subscribe to Cohesion Corner™ with Dr. Troy!