Career SkillsLessons on Leadership

The “Lesson in Leadership” That I Needed to Learn

By Jacquelyn Adams

In 1997, Tuesdays with Morrie was published and became a bestseller in the following years. I watched with detached fascination as all the emotional ‘sheep’ around me devoured this book and sang the praises of its life-changing impact. However, I knew I was too clever to waste my time jumping on this gimmicky, emotional bandwagon.

So what makes me bring this up 26 years later? I re-evaluated my preconceived notions when the author, Mitch Albom, spoke at a recent SHRM23 conference. I realized there were things I didn’t know about this book, and the first among them was… well, anything. The only thing I knew about the book was that it was feelings-driven and popular, so I had dismissed it on principle. Remember Ted Lasso’s speech about being curious? Yeah… I was being the opposite of that. I judged harshly prematurely, and missed an opportunity to grow. When forced to engage with Albom’s story, I discovered it was filled with leadership lessons I have spent the last several years learning, as well as ones that I am still learning today.

Not a cog in the system

Morrie left a legacy not just in those final Tuesdays with Albom, but in decades as a teacher pouring himself into the lives of his students. This was abundantly clear from their first interaction. Not only does he stop roll call to ask if Albom prefers to go by Mitch or Mitchell, but when Albom answers that his friends call him Mitch, the response is, “Mitch it is, and I hope someday you will consider me a friend, too.”

A life philosophy

Even on his deathbed, when he could not move any part of his body without assistance, Morrie was still aware of the legacy he was leaving. His philosophy was “giving is living,” and everyone who entered his room experienced that. They came prepared to offer support. They left having talked about themselves. They left feeling heard, seen and comforted. Morrie knew his legacy wasn’t the money he earned or the awards he won. Those don’t last, but what we pour into others, the memories we leave, the little impacts we make — those last and have a ripple effect.

OG servant leader

Tuesdays with Morrie is a great example on how to become humble, vulnerable servant leader. This story, from 26 years ago, holds the values that I have spent the last few years working so hard to learn. As I am, many years after the fact, opening this book and having my own visits with Morrie, I encourage you to consider doing the same. But whether or not we read the book, we can continue to grow and challenge ourselves to live up to Morrie’s legacy. We can take some time to think about “giving is living,” and the multiple ways we can apply it to our own lives. That being said, if it feels too daunting, here are a few baby-step questions to get that ball rolling and help us be more present:

  • Am I fully engaged in the task or conversation at hand?
  • Am I actively listening to my colleagues and giving them my full attention?
  • Am I proactively seeking opportunities to support and help others?
  • Am I effectively managing my time and priorities to maximize productivity and efficiency?
  • Am I fostering a collaborative and inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and heard?

Don’t become rigid

We don’t learn the final lesson from Morrie directly. Instead, we see it from Morrie’s influence in Albom’s life. Before reconnecting with Morrie, Albom was a well-established sports writer, and was entirely focused on growing that career. He knew what success meant, and he was well on the way. Now he is a best-selling author of multiple books, philanthropist and public speaker. This was not Albom’s intended path. This was not his idea of success. He only wrote Tuesdays with Morrie because he wanted to help cover the cost of Morrie’s medical bills. He ventured out of his planned path. He took a few steps in an unknown direction, and in doing so discovered a whole new way forward. Albom did not stay married to his idea of what success looks like and instead, through Morrie’s influence, impacted so many lives with his books, and helped so many people through his philanthropic work.

These changes are subtle, so they can be easy to dismiss, just as I originally dismissed Albom’s book. But that can be the case for profound things. They are simple and organic. That’s how they can touch so many lives. Morrie forever changed Albom’s life just by being present, caring, challenging, and truly knowing him. This was the kind of leader Morrie was, and the leader that I am striving to become.


Jacquelyn Adams

Jacquelyn Adams, founder and CEO of Ristole, uses her column to delve into the wild world of leadership. Whether the article is about her days as a Peace Corp volunteer, exploring corporate training, or even grabbing lunch at Chipotle — she will come out with a story and her “top tips.” As she passionately believes in leveraging her platform to share others’ voices, her column welcomes guest bloggers to create a fuller and more diverse pool of experiences for her readership. So, welcome to “Lessons on Leadership” where you never know what the next article will hold: online networking advice, guidelines for creating a joyful workplace, or even puppies. Just keep reading to discover what’s next!

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    1. I couldn’t agree more, John! Morrie did leave an amazing legacy that I’m continuing to learn from.

  1. As a leader, I have come to realize that true leadership extends far beyond mere authority or the ability to give orders. It encompasses a profound understanding of people, their aspirations, and the art of inspiring and guiding them towards a shared vision. Throughout my journey, I encountered a valuable lesson in leadership that transformed my approach and helped me become a more effective and empathetic leader.

    The lesson I needed to learn revolved around the power of active listening and genuine empathy. In the early stages of my leadership role, I was focused on asserting my ideas, making decisions, and achieving results. While these aspects are important, I failed to recognize the significance of connecting with my team members on a deeper level.

    One pivotal moment shifted my perspective. During a team meeting, a colleague approached me with a personal issue. Instead of merely brushing it off or providing a quick solution, I decided to take a different approach. I genuinely listened to their concerns, asking questions to understand their emotions and challenges better. I realized that my role as a leader was not solely about finding immediate solutions but also about providing support and fostering an environment of trust.

    This encounter opened my eyes to the importance of empathy in leadership. I discovered that by actively listening to my team members’ needs, concerns, and aspirations, I could develop a deeper understanding of who they were as individuals. This understanding allowed me to tailor my leadership approach to suit their unique strengths and challenges.

    By genuinely empathizing with my team members, I found that they became more engaged, motivated, and committed to our shared goals. They felt valued and understood, which led to increased productivity and a more harmonious work environment. Moreover, by actively seeking their input and considering their perspectives, I was able to make better-informed decisions that reflected the collective wisdom of the team.

    Since learning this lesson in leadership, I have made a conscious effort to prioritize active listening and empathy in my interactions with team members. I strive to create a safe space where they feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and concerns openly. I make it a point to acknowledge their contributions, celebrate their successes, and provide guidance and support when needed.

    In conclusion, the “lesson in leadership” that I needed to learn was that true leadership is built on a foundation of active listening and genuine empathy. By embracing these qualities, I have been able to forge stronger connections with my team, inspire them to achieve their best, and foster an environment of trust and collaboration. This valuable lesson has transformed my leadership style and continues to shape my approach as I strive to become a better leader each day.

    1. I love your story! Thank you for sharing the leadership lesson you needed to learn. Your realization about the power of active listening and empathy really does underline their importance in creating an effective team environment. I appreciate your taking the time to provide additional perspective on this very crucial topic!

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