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Mentoring – Love and Invisibility

| April 2, 2019

by Jim Bruce

Today’s Tuesday Reading is an essay by Mark Katsouros, Director of Voice & Video at the Pennsylvania State University. Mark is an early alumnus of the MOR Leaders Program. His essay first appeared in his blog Mark My Words on September 13, 2018. [Mark may be reached at <[email protected]>.] 

Ever have one of those mornings where you realize you’re just going through the motions? You know, you wake up, go for a run, shower, head to work, look at the calendar on your smartphone, and head to your first meeting? This is how my day started yesterday. Admittedly, I was tired (after getting up before 5am to go for a six-mile run in the dark). Funny thing is that I realized, in real time, that I was just going through the motions. This doesn’t happen to me too often, but I suppose we all occasionally fall into a pattern of mindless, barely purposeful movement.  Then, a cool thing happened…
My first meeting of the day happened to be a Penn State IT Mentors final face-to-face meeting. (I serve on the organizing committee, having been a mentor in the program since its inception four years ago.) Right from the start, it was energizing. We had a round-robin of testimonials from both mentees and mentors and what the program had meant to them—what they learned about each other and themselves, the networking opportunities, and the real growth opportunities discovered and forged. We also had some VIPs there to speak, including our [then] Sr. Director for IT in Finance and Business, David Gindhart, and our VP of IT and CIO, Michael Kubit.
Dave spoke of the parallels between leadership and love. This was extremely interesting, and really hit home. One definition of love is giving something to others with no expectation of anything in return, of any real self-gain—the mother who’s really tired and has to get up early for work in the morning, but stays up all night watching over her sick child, or the stranger who volunteers, before or after a long day of work, to cook and serve others at the local food bank or drive a senior citizen to a medical appointment. 
And, one definition of a leader is one who gives something of her/himself to others, with no expectation of recognition for doing so. This is often called “servant leadership,” and it’s something to which I subscribe and aspire to embody. Give credit, take blame, help those around you succeed, even shield others from the bull and politics we all inevitably encounter on occasion. If we all did this every day at work, imagine the kind of workplace we’d have. But I had never quite thought about it in the context that Dave so eloquently provided. Leadership and love. It really is quite the striking parallel. 
Dave also talked about change, referencing the significant organizational change that is underway across Penn State IT, and people’s fears about change and the unknown, and their need for, yep, love. We talked about how easy it is to view change as negative, and scary, but reminded each other that change should be contextualized much more positively. Change is opportunity! For growing, learning something new, and NOT going through the motions.
Then Michael spoke, first adding to the great conversation that had just occurred, but then listening to the program participants in the room speak on everything from the IT Mentors program to change to leadership. It was a wonderful discussion, and a wonderful reminder of how important it is for leaders to be great listeners. He reminded us of the incredibly important role IT plays in the University’s mission. And he said something that triggered a lot of thinking on my part about another parallel. He talked about how the best leaders are “invisible.” 
Much like the context Dave had just provided, Michael reminded us that the best leaders promote the success of others—that the best outcome to which we as leaders can aspire is to push our colleagues and customers, and employees, and peers, into the limelight of success, while we remain invisible and ready to do it again, and again. What could be greater, and point to more success, and purpose, and self-fulfillment, than that? 
Finally, he reminded us of the importance of balance, of taking care of, not only others, but of oneself. (Suddenly, I was proud of myself for making the time to run early that morning.) Oh, and the thinking that it triggered on my part? I thought about another interesting parallel: That the best, most useful, most compelling IT should also be “invisible.” That it should just simply ENABLE, as effortlessly and as intuitively, and as reliably, as possible. Our mission is teaching, research, and service. We Are… Scholarship, and global problem-solving, and community! And the IT underpinning all of this should be just that—an easy, and enabling, and out of the way (yes, invisible) underpinning to the greatness that is our mission and purpose.
Needless to say, by the end of our meeting, I was no longer going through the motions. Nor was anyone else in that room.
So, yeah, love and invisibility. “Who would have thunk it,” as I brushed my teeth and put on my shoes yesterday morning? 


Mark said things here that are really important. Do you see that one of your key roles as a leader is to help those you lead succeed? And, to do that “invisibly,” without stealing the limelight from those successes? I’ve learned that one of the highest forms of praise a leader can receive is being told “Thank you for your help. I could not have been successful without your help and support along the way.”
So, as you go about your day today, and in the future, look for the opportunities you can have to be helpful to others with no expectation for recognition or reward for the help, small or large, that you provide.
Make it a great week for your team and you.  . .  .     jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates.  He previously was Professor of Electrical Engineering, and Vice President for Information Systems and CIO at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.