Leadership Lessons from My Grandfather by Marissa Filippo

YNPN Board of Directors Speak!

My grandfather, George Latham, is 98 years old.  He is a former high school basketball coach and school principal.  He is a member of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, probably because he accumulated a 250-80 and won several state titles record during his time coaching at Quincy High School from 1945-56.  He began coaching basketball in the 1930s, and he retired as an Assistant Superintendent of Waukegan Public Schools in 1980.  So I would say objectively, even though he’s family and I am biased, he knows a thing or two about competition, leadership, and career building.  I have asked for his advice frequently regarding my own education and career, and in our conversations, he has always given me a solid foundation from which to think about such matters sprinkled with insights that only experience can give you.

Here is part of a conversation we had on a recent visit:

Me:  What are the most important personal characteristics of a leader?  What can I cultivate in myself as a young professional in order to earn leadership?

Granddad:  Man, you ask tough questions.  First of all you need motivation and the desire to lead.  That means you want to go all out for your profession and the mission of the organization you work for.  Number two, you must know the business or your subject matter thoroughly—competency, or ability to do your job well is very important.  Three, you must be motivated to work with people and help them succeed along with you, as well as the enterprise or organization.  Four, you must be honest and approachable to keep the confidence of your fellow workers, while also making fair and informed decisions.  Five, show a positive attitude always even though you will certainly go through disappointments.

Me:  What kind of advice might you have for young professionals who are trying to build their careers and advance into leadership positions?

Granddad:  You can learn from everybody and it takes all kinds.  As you gain more experience in your career, tough situations will bother you less.  This is important, because as a result of increasing responsibility, comes an increase in tough situations that you’ll have to navigate.

Talking to my grandfather usually brings things into perspective quickly.  I mean, he lived through nearly the entire 20th century!  He coached and taught before and during the civil rights movement and has witnessed and participated in the history of modern education reform.  You can’t really shock this man, he’s seen almost everything under the sun.  And in talking to him, I understand that even though it is a new century and we are operating in a global economy and the politics are changing, fundamentally, the qualities of a good leader are the same.  This is a relief to me, as a younger professional, knowing that I can learn from current and former leaders.

There is much they can tell us that is still relevant.  And much that we can learn from each other too!  Staying connected and involved is important if we are to understand what’s happening in our environment and the ways in which we can work to improve life for our stakeholders, peers, and families through the organizations we work for.

Marissa Filippo is an Executive Co-Chair of YNPN Chicago and currently serves as an Executive Assistant to the Chief Operating Officer at the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), an organization which provides credentialing services to the dental community. Marissa has nearly ten years of experience working in nonprofits in Chicago and has been involved in programs related to public education, nonprofit management support and professional development training. Marissa maintains an interest in film and the arts and has taught Humanities at Harold Washington College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago. Marissa earned a B.A. in English from the University of Illinois and an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Humanities from Arizona State University.

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