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One teacher’s lesson a CEO never forgot

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

One of Joel Manby’s most memorable lessons in leadership came from Miss Pray, his seventh-grade teacher in Battle Creek, Mich.

You may recall Manby from CBS’ “Undercover Boss.” Americans watched the president and CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment wash the streets of his company’s theme park in Branson, Mo.

But back when he was a student at Woodrow Junior High School, he was merely a straight-A student with perfect attendance.

He recalls when it was time for parent-teacher conferences. His teacher, a disciplinarian who didn’t smile much, had asked Manby to join her and Manby’s mother, which was a bit unusual but didn’t raise any alarms. Perhaps, he thought, Miss Pray planned to present him with some sort of honor.

That wasn’t what Miss Pray had in mind.

She began by telling Manby’s mother that the boy was an excellent student, grasping and applying concepts quickly. But there was an issue she needed to discuss with him, and she needed Mrs. Manby to hear it, too, so they both could help him become a better person.

Then she looked directly at her student. “Joel, you are a gifted leader,” she began, going into detail about the ways she’d seen him impact people around him.

“However, you are a very poor listener. I have watched you take over a class project group when you were not even assigned to be the leader. Then what’s worse, you didn’t listen to others in the group when they tried to speak. You interrupted them and often cut them off.

“You have the natural ability to be a great leader, but you are going to have to fix your listening skills or you will be limited in how far you can go.”

He felt horrible, but he knew she was right. And he has never forgotten that day.

Miss Pray cared enough to call him out, and he’s a better leader today for it.

— Adapted from Love Works, Joel Manby.

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