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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.