‘Brenda Eckstein International’ specialises in leadership development, a subject which has been of great interest to me for many years. A leader who ignited my passion for this topic is a great man who is now retired and lives in Hermanus in the Cape, Republic of South Africa. My interaction with him began many years ago. Let me tell you the story:
Mike Mathews had been a teacher before he joined the corporate world. So when the current chairman retired, Mike was the ideal candidate to become Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Girls’ Collegiate School in Pietermaritzburg, Republic of South Africa.
I had been invited to join this board a few months before he became chairman. At age thirty, I was half the average age of the members of the board and most of them were experienced in education. I felt inadequate and there seemed to be no way I could contribute effectively as a member of this board. To improve my own performance at the board meetings, I joined a voluntary training organisation specialising in business meeting procedure and participation. Yet, I was not inspired. Meetings lasted more than five hours and ended late in the evenings. Members had little sense of achievement, as we seemed to have no function except to attend boring meetings.
Then Mike Mathews became Chairman and there was a dramatic change. The Board’s role (ensuring the school’s long term success and survival) was clearly defined and sound business principles were to be followed. Mike made it clear that he expected positive results. He said it was unnecessary to waste time having long meetings. Board meetings were cut to two hours and the board members were divided into committees. Members were given responsibilities. I was given a special portfolio and became the Public Relations Chairman. What did I know about that topic? I had never done anything like that before but Mike showed great confidence in my ability to succeed. He helped me by adopting a coaching style of leadership.
Although I had a great deal to learn, I was determined not to let our leader down. I was inspired. The new system involved each committee chairman producing a report (including explanations of budget variances) two weeks before each board meeting—something that had not been done before. I looked forward to presenting these reports because I was proud of the achievements. In addition, Mike through his genuine interest in each one of us and to make sure we were achieving, phoned each of us at intervals to see how we were doing. I enthusiastically and eagerly awaited his calls to share our successes, and I made sure I had successes to share! I was no different to any other members of his team.
I excelled under Mike’s leadership and I know that the other members of the board did, too. He not only helped me to reach my potential but also became my role model for leadership. As I progressed and held various leadership positions in the business world, I always looked back on the wonderful example that Mike set in getting the task done through helping to set a clear vision, motivating his team to achieve the vision and enabling each member to achieve infinitely more than they thought they were capable of.
I was truly privileged to have a coach like Mike.
PS The school has grown and trebled in size and continues to thrive as ‘The Wykeham Collegiate’!