It’s one of the questions I’m asked most frequently in leadership circles: “Who is the greatest leader you’ve ever met?”
I’ve had the privilege of meeting some of the greatest leaders in the world—men and women who are having a profound impact on the lives of thousands of people. So when people ask me this question, I have a hunch they’re expecting me to drop names and talk about sitting at the feet of a renowned leader as they poured principles into me like Yoda did for Luke Skywalker.
However, the greatest leader I’ve ever known is someone you have most likely never heard of.
Her name is Helen Noble.
Helen was never a president. She wasn’t a CEO. She wasn’t the head of a big nonprofit or the pastor of a megachurch.
Helen was my mother.
I only had the privilege of knowing her for twelve years, but the way she led me during that time has profoundly shaped the way I see life and leadership. Her life is proof that leadership isn’t about the position you hold but rather the person you are.
I’ll never forget the day I found out my mother had cancer.
She had been scheduled for a routine operation in which she was going to have her gallbladder removed, and when the doctors began to operate they discovered cancer had covered the inside of her body.
The school bus dropped me off that day, I walked home and was surprised to see several cars in my driveway.
My dad was inside and had been waiting on me to tell several of the family members who he had gathered the news.
“The doctors found cancer, they have said it’s too late and she will most likely never come home as she needs constant medical attention.”
I ran into the woods behind our house and cried for what seemed like hours.
I can remember thinking if this is what God was like, I wanted NOTHING to do with Him!
Yet during the entire time she battled with cancer, I never saw her express any anger at God, or allow what was happening in her life to take the smile off her face. Through chemo, sleepless nights, and days filled with pain, she was always quick to remind me that God is good no matter what. Because of her example I was being taught that I can hold on to the promise that even when things don’t look great, He can still be fully trusted.
My mom was always my biggest fan. I played football for a little league rec team and was absolutely horrible. It didn’t matter—my mother was at every game.
But that was before she got sick. The next season, the doctors discovered the cancer shortly before the football season began, and she was too sick to attend any practices or games. I would get dressed for a game and come into the living room, where she was sitting in her chair, to give her a kiss before I left.
The cancer was attacking her body with relentless intensity, and she was in constant pain. She probably weighed about one hundred pounds.
Near the end of the season, my mom got it in her mind that she would attend one of my games. I will never forget the resolve in her voice as she said to my dad, “I’m going to this football game.”
My dad didn’t argue. He picked her up, put her in the car, and set up a lounge chair for her at the field. She stayed for the whole game, and every time I made a play, I could hear her cheering.
Even when her body was failing her and she had no physical strength left, she refused to give up.
She would not fail me.
My mom modeled that leaders don’t allow circumstances to hold them back from what’s important. She may not have won any awards for her leadership, but her legacy of never-failing love lives on.
Sometimes the best leadership advice comes from the most unexpected sources: from the life of a mother in South Carolina whose life was cut short too soon, or from the pen of an apostle, written some two thousand years ago.
Whatever your sphere of influence—whether you’re managing a corporation or heading up a small group that meets in your home—I hope these leadership principles will sink into your heart and mind and daily habits.
Instead of approaching leadership the way the world does, with a hunger for power and self-advancement and competition, may you see that the best style of leadership is through love.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.”
(This is actually an excerpt from my new book The Most Excellent Way to Lead. If you enjoyed reading this, I hope you’ll love the whole book! You can visit mostexcellentwaytolead.com to find a retailer near you and get your copy today!)
This article was originally published at perrynoble.com/blog/who-is-the-greatest-leader-youve-ever-met on March 28, 2016. Follow Perry Noble on Facebook/nobleperry and Twitter @.