Ryan Estis: Leadership Isn’t Your Job, It’s Your Responsibility


Ryan Estis has dedicated his career to helping companies and individual contributors to use change as a means to achieve breakthrough performance. Having two decades of hands on business experience, the former McCann World Group Advertising Chief Strategy Officer is widely regarded as a leading expert on Culture, LeadershipSales Effectiveness and the Future of Work. Below Ryan chronicles his introduction to two colleagues (Ellice and Mim) and how their story demonstrates how powerful good Leadership can be: 

If you think back to all those who have helped you get to where you are today, is there a stand-out leader who has made a major impact? Hopefully you are like me and can clearly identify those few individuals who provided the inspiration and mentorship that helped shape the person and professional you are today.

But do they know?

I challenge people to think about this question and encourage them to tell their impactful influencer(s) how important they were in their life and career. To this day, I regret missing the opportunity to thank someone who had a big impact on my life and I don’t want others to feel the same.

And while you ponder who these mentors are, it’s worth asking yourself: “Whose list would I be on? What difference am I making in someone’s life/career?”

This simple exercise can often lead to powerful instances of human connection. After my opening keynote for the HRMA Conference in Vancouver, I was made aware of one of these instances through Twitter.

Ryan Estis blog twitter

Wanting to learn more about Mim, Ellice, and their “thank a mentor” moment, I asked Ellice to tell me more. Here’s what she told me:

As she was walking out of the HRMA Conference she heard someone say, “You were my ‘one’! You know that, right?” When Ellice turned around she saw her former employee, Mim.

“It really made me emotional,” Ellice told me. “I didn’t know I’d had such an impact on her life. That’s what you want to do as a leader — help people grow and become better (even better than you). But it’s almost like a dream when someone tells you you’ve achieved that.”

Mim had just earned her degree in HR when Ellice hired her right out of school. “Our company wasn’t an easy place to start a career in HR,” Ellice explained. “The learning curve was very steep. But the way I approached it was from a place of trust. I trusted that Mim had the ability to research and ask questions. I’d often give her assignments and let her run with them. I tried to include her in everything I did so that she’d learn. When I was a new grad, I didn’t get much challenging work. So I wanted to make sure she wasn’t just filing papers.”

Ellice explained that she had taken a more humble approach to mentorship with Mim. “I always listened to her. I didn’t assume she wouldn’t know how to do something just because she was young. And because of that, she made us look like stars a number of times. She came up with processes and ideas that were much better than the way I’d been doing things. She became a more valuable employee because she was exposed to a lot of new opportunities. She stretched and grew quickly.”

And Mim agreed. “Instead of just telling me the answer, she’d ask what I thought first,” she says of Ellice. “She was always there to help me. She empowered me.”

Our leaders today almost always affect the leaders we will be tomorrow. Ellice recognizes her first professional mentor as the one who showed her how to be a more vulnerable, more open leader. “She told me the truth, stuck up for me, listened to me, and gave me opportunities to grow,” Said Ellice. “She put a lot of effort into helping me learn and develop. That’s definitely influenced my own style as a leader.”

So naturally I wanted Ellice’s advice for fellow leaders, and here’s what she told me:

“First, come from a place of trust. Then, be humble. You don’t have all the answers, and it’s totally possible for someone brand new to have a great idea that can help everyone shine. And, it’s important to give people guidance if they do go off track. No one’s perfect. But if you come from a place of trying to help people, they’ll be more open to feedback. Having hard, honest conversations builds trust. It’s about making people better, not paring them down.”

Leadership isn’t a job — it’s a responsibility. And those who take that responsibility seriously have the opportunity to have a major impact on the lives of the people they lead.

Mim admits she was surprised that Ellice was unaware that she was Mim’s “one.” “Ellice was a huge inspiration to me,” Mim explained. “I assumed she knew what an impact she’d had on me, but I realized through our conversation that she didn’t know the extent. It made me realize how important it is to reach out to people and let them know you appreciate them. Even if you think the person knows — tell them anyway.”

Now that’s a worthwhile challenge for the day: Tell one person how they’ve influenced your life and/or career. You may create a great moment that neither of you will forget.


Ryan Estis helps companies and individual contributors embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance. Each live event blends original research with compelling stories that move participants to take action. Ryan has 20 years of business experience working with the world’s best brands to initiate change, inspire innovation and deliver growth. Learn more about Ryan Estis.

Do You Have the 4 Key Traits of Today’s Most Influential Leaders?


The characteristics of a great leader have evolved. The qualities necessary to be an effective manager in today’s business landscape have drastically shifted from those of 20 years ago – Intimidating and berating your employees to get results won’t work anymore (But did it ever?). As a contemporary leader, are you reaching your maximum potential? Here are the 4 qualities that you need to have to be that leader:

  1. Focus on EQ instead of IQ. “Intelligence is not the sole source of success” says our Emotional Intelligence Speaker Dr. Travis Bradberry. Sure Gary in IT dabbles with quantum physics in his spare time, but his inappropriate jokes offend his co-workers. Although businesses list “strong interpersonal skills” as an important quality, they are often overlooked by managers. Having a highly intelligent person on the team is great, but if no one wants to work with them because of their thoughtlessness and insensitivity you’ll end up becoming their babysitter – no manager has time to constantly remind their employees to “play nice.”


  1. Say No. According to our Innovation Speaker & Author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less Greg McKeown, the most successful leaders know how to strategically prioritize. Modern prioritizing is not simply organizing and ranking your tasks by importance, but actually saying “no” to certain tasks. “Doing it all” is not constructive – it hinders your effectiveness. Just say no and delegate!


  1. Inspire those around you. A great leader has a clear understanding of the core values of their company and they model themselves to reflect those values says Our Motivational Speaker, Firefighter, and CNN Hero Robyn Benincasa. A leader who consistently demonstrates excellence and dedication will inspire those around them to follow suit. It will also have a much larger impact on employee behavior than the “Code of Conduct” recorded in the Employee Handbook – reading what is expected of you and actually seeing it in action makes a huge difference!


  1. Listen. When Our Leadership Speaker Mike Abrashoff took over as Commander of the USS Benfold Naval War Ship it was one of the most under-performing ships in the Pacific fleet. Morale was low, turnover was high, and the crew had unacceptably low performance evaluations. With the same crew, Abrashoff turned the Benfold into one of the finest ships in the Pacific fleet. How did he do it? He listened. He spoke with the members of the crew and gave them a platform to voice their concerns and opinions, and he used this valuable information to implement changes that boosted morale and performance. Simply listening to your employees will make them feel valued and you will glean insight that you could never get from the quarterly reports.

Clap Along if You Feel like Happiness is for You (at work): 3 Signs You’re Happy with Your Job


Employee happiness is something that all managers ought to be focused on. According to Emotional Intelligence expert and Speaker Travis Bradberry, compared to unhappy employees, happy employees are:

  • 36% more motivated,
  • have 6 times more energy,
  • and are twice as productive as other employees

Sure, they may say they’re happy when asked about their job satisfaction but even the friendliest, most approachable bosses may not be getting the whole truth from their people. To evaluate if your employees are truly happy you have to focus more on their actions, and less on their words. Here are 3 important indicators that you’re leading happy employees:

  1. Do you  want to go for a drink with those people in Marketing after work or would you rather have a root canal?

Social connections are one of the main qualities that contribute to sustained happiness says The Happiness Advantage author and Speaker Shawn Achor.  So employees who cultivate a social network at the office are more likely to be happier than those who keep their co-workers at a distance. A great way to gauge the strength of employees’ connections is to hold casual, voluntary after-work functions and see who attends. Those who show up are more likely to view it as a social gathering rather than a work event, indicating that they view their co-workers as friends and not simply colleagues.

  1. Are you really pleased Pat received that Sales Award or are you considering getting a Voodoo doll?

Happy employees want to see others succeed asserts Positive Communication Expert and Speaker Michelle Gielan. They don’t feel threatened by their colleagues’ achievements and recognize that the success of one is the success of all (including your company’s bottom line).

  1. Do you bounce back quickly or are you still getting over The Client-Drinking Straw-Ham Sandwich Incident of  ’06?

Happy employees look at set-back as temporary says Psychologist and Wellness Speaker Dr. Martin Seligman. Contented people believe that negative circumstances are fleeting and a set-back at work is simply a passing matter. They also bounce back quickly because they don’t shoulder all the blame for a particular set-back – they acknowledge it and choose to look at it as a challenge to try harder.

So clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth! But not too loudly – you don’t want to startle Janice across the hall.