I was standing on the front porch of a ranch house in southern Oklahoma when the director of the leadership retreat approached. He said, “We’ll start soon. Everybody is here but one.” I was there to facilitate the group and I nodded my head in agreement. He continued, “The last one just called. She made a wrong turn, but will be here in a few minutes.”
As if on cue, I heard the distant sound of tires clawing for traction on the dirt and gravel road that led to the house. When the driver made the final turn, I saw her car and a rapidly growing cloud of dust rising high into the sky behind her. As she approached the house, she came to a stop and the cloud enveloped her car, blanketed it with a fine coating of dust, and then evaporated. An older woman got out of the car and made her way towards the main house.
The cohort was comprised of 30 executives from Oklahoma City and she appeared to know most of them. As she greeted them, I remained focused on the car. I have always been a “car guy” but had not been able to identify her sedan. As I looked more closely, the distinctive double M on the hood ornament gave it away. She was driving an ultra-rare Maybach. This luxury car came standard with a twin-turbocharged, V-12. I smiled as I looked at dust coated car and thought, “That has to be the only Maybach that has ever been off-roading.”
A few moments later, the group assembled in the living room. Each person took a minute or two to introduce themselves. When it came time for the mystery driver, I was curious to hear her story. She stood and said, “My name is Mo.” She smiled and continued, “I am 79 years old.” She paused and said, “I turn 80 in three months.” She paused again and then enthusiastically said, “And I can’t wait!” She continued, “My 70s have been my best decade, and I can’t imagine what is going to happen in my 80s!”
She literally embodied the power of a growth mindset.
Most of the people who had gone before her had shared their title and the number of people in their organizations. After a few more personal remarks, following the pattern, she concluded, “I am the vice-chair and co-owner of Keller Williams.” As she began to sit down she said, “We have 140,000 employees.” (Since that time, the number of associates at Keller Williams has grown by another 40,000 and continues to increase due to their unique culture.)
Whether Mo knew it or not, in the span of a minute, she had set the tone for the weekend. The fact that one of America’s most successful executives, who happened to be just a few months shy of her 80th birthday, had chosen to invest her valuable time at a leadership development experience spoke volumes. She literally embodied the power of a growth mindset.
Since that time, I have had the opportunity to get to know Mo better. A woman of deep faith, she is among the most generous people I have ever met. The daughter of a tenant farmer, she is grateful for her success, but it is not the source of her identity.
Recently, I wrote a book about inspiring people like Mo. The book is entitled Sleeping Giants (Monocle Press, Nov., 2018). It is focused on how our mental models are formed and shaped. It is written from the perspective that mental models are not fixed or concrete.
When writing Sleeping Giants, three themes emerged from the lives of leaders who embraced a growth mindset and refused to plateau. First, they found joy in serving others. Second, they were committed to helping activate others. They consistently challenged assumptions and inspired others to grow. And third, they helped provide access to opportunities. They used their influence to open doors of opportunity for others.
Dr. Nathan Mellor is a speaker, author, and executive with the heart of an educator. A noted storyteller, he has a passion for inspiring others to make a difference. He is the CEO of the C3 Brands family of companies, which includes Mosaic Personnel, Qubit Creative, and Strata Leadership. He is the president of Strata Leadership. He holds B.A. and M.S. in Education degrees from Harding University. He earned Master of Dispute Resolution and Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership degrees from Pepperdine University. Dr. Mellor’s book Sleeping Giants can be found at www.strataleadership.com.