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Terri L. Baumgardner, Ph.D. Headshot

All That Is Right With Leadership

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His name was Stevan Porter. He was 53 when he died on August 7, 2008.

He had spent his career of 32 years in the hotel industry. When I had the occasion to meet him, he was in the role of President of the Americas for InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG).

He represented all that is right with leadership.

In a day when we can give far too many examples of U.S. presidents who lie, world leaders who threaten, politicians who sext, generals who cheat, and company CEOs who steal shareholders' money, it is easy to be disillusioned with leadership. This alone makes it all the more important to name and honor the leaders who can serve as role models for the rest of us. We need to hold up these examples. Steve Porter was one of the best examples.

While I didn't know him well and he wasn't or isn't the only leader worth honoring or following, I did know well many who worked with him. To a person, even when they speak about him today, they do so with respect and often, dare I say it, even love, in their voices.

What he knew that many leaders forget was captured in his own words from his IHG bio. "The thing I like best is making a big difference in people's lives... I think we need more humanity in business," he said.

He touched people's souls with his humanity. He recognized the value every person brought to the table, and often helped them to recognize this value themselves. His humor and humility made it easy to get in close. He didn't have the sharp edges that poke people to be sure they don't cross some imaginary barrier. He didn't want his ego to take him off course, unconsciously or consciously, subtly or in-your-face, in small ways or in big ways.

He knew that he and the leaders who worked with him had a responsibility to be their best. So, he challenged himself and his team to view the development of their own talent, skillsets, and awareness as their accountability -- quite unlike many a C-suite table where the team decides that growth and development has no place in their suite; after all, they've made it and know their roles backwards and forwards.

He understood his responsibility, but not only that. In a time when Corporate Social Responsibility meant little more than "green" to most leaders, he knew better. It meant being socially responsible in all the ways that the company could -- giving back to communities, people, and the planet. He was practicing "conscious capitalism" well before the term was ever coined, and more than that, practicing it strategically.

Steve Porter had a rare executive gift that went far beyond getting results and keeping stakeholders happy - which, by the way, he knew how to do in his sleep. He not only captured people's minds, but he captured their hearts as well. And, it was contagious, as was his smile.

It is easy to get disillusioned. I hear it from the younger leaders I work with often. Many of them are searching for an example like Steve Porter, without success. They want the leaders above them to know that leadership is an honor, not an entitlement. You have to dive in deep and give it your all. You have to make every decision with keen awareness of the impact on people. You have to stay in-touch, enlightened and aware, even when -- especially when -- it takes courage to do so.

Through all he did and all he gave, Stevan Porter did what he wanted to do -- make a difference. He continues to do so today for the people who are inspired by his memory to be examples of the best in humanity... and leadership.