Brand building through storytelling

The best thing that happened this week

A friend called the other day with a favour to ask. She was up for an award, and she needed a letter of support. Then she said the best thing I’ve heard all week: “I think of you as my mentor.”

Mentor. What a wonderful word. How charged with power and possibility. And also, in my case, with an unlikely tenderness. “They couldn’t choose anyone better than you,” I said, already composing a testimonial in my head. “How soon do you need the letter?”

When I won a corner-office job, Editor of Chatelaine, I thought leadership was all about me: my mandate, my vision, my opportunities. The next decade showed me how wrong I was. There is no greater honour in the workplace than preparing someone else for leadership and watching her become her best, most purposeful self. When I look back on my boardroom years, the first thing I see is not my own achievements, which belong to a particular time and place. It’s the exceptional people who built their careers on my team, and who are now leaders in their field. They’re not always doing what I would do in their place. They do what they think is right, and that’s exactly as it should be.

I spent a couple of hours on my letter of support, considering every word. I remembered what I used to tell editors and writers: “Show me, don’t tell me. Let’s see some word pictures here.” To bring my friend to life on the page, I told a couple of stories that captured her strengths. In one of the stories, she summoned the courage and initiative to confront a challenge that I would have dodged. Her stand had an impact I felt moved to acknowledge in words, so that others could see just how resolute she was.

Before printing out the letter, I e-mailed her a copy. “I’d almost forgotten that incident,” she said. Isn’t that always the way? We forget or minimize our own everyday acts of heroism, so thank goodness other people remember. It’s a joy to play this role for people I believe in.

This has been, in most respects, a catastrophic week. I have lost a keeper of my own history (as you already know if you’ve read my two previous posts). In the midst of my shock and sorrow, I look for reasons to hope. I think of the award that my younger friend deserves to win. I want to cheer for her, but I can’t just yet because she hasn’t won. So I look at it this way. IIf they pick someone else, they’ll have to answer to me.

Posted by Rona

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