Surround Yourself With Great Leaders

(Photo UVA Rotunda, 2000) From left to right: UVA President John T. Casteen (1990-2000), Cynthia Murray, Cynthia Murray Enterprises (CEO), Rear Admiral Mariann Stratton (Navy, Ret.), Professor David T. Gies (Dept. of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, Ret. Chair)

I hope that your day is going well! I found this amazing gem of a picture of me with people who directly and indirectly had an major positive impact on my life and career. The memories that this photo evoked inspired me to write to you about surrounding yourself with great leaders. I look up to each one of these individuals to this very day, albeit for different reasons. You see, in this photo I am surrounded by amazing leaders with different strengths, impact and perspectives on what would later be my life and career.

In this picture taken in the year 2000 we were at the Distinguished Alumnae Dinner sponsored by the UVA Women’s Center for which I had the privilege of serving on the Advisory Board as a very young professional with a lot to learn from these folks! 

President John Casteen was not only the UVA President while I was a student there, but he was an example of a leader who genuinely cared about his students. If memory serves me correctly, he previously taught English at UVA and he never lost that love for the students that he served when he rose to the position of President, a position he would hold for 20 years. He stayed connected and showed calm compassion and a desire to see us all succeed. I learned servant leadership in part from this great role model.

Retired Read Admiral Stratton was (and is) someone to whom I could look up to and admire for her amazing role as a leader in the United States Navy – a world where there are very few women who had risen to that level of leadership command. She was smart, well-respected, and had a strong sense of identity and confidence. To me she epitomized executive presence. Her leadership inspired me to take the limits off of my own future career and see that the possibilities were indeed endless.

Professor Gies was not only my teacher, but my friend and later, my colleague as we served together on the Advisory Board of the Women’s Center. To be honest, I’ve never felt comfortable calling him “David” because I hold him in such high regard as one of the mentors in my life as a young woman with the world before her eyes, full of hope and a bit of trepidation. I respected him greatly and still do. He encouraged me to explore the world and spread my wings. He encouraged me, corrected me and sharpened me. I could not have chosen a better undergraduate advisor then Mr. Gies…I mean, David! Old habits die hard!

I learned so much from these three individuals in totally different ways, but all in ways that left an indelible impact on my life and career as I would develop into a leader who trains other leaders. I owe them a debt of gratitude that I will always try to repay as I finish this race and life’s assignment that I’ve been given. I want to make a commitment today. Please help keep me accountable to it.

I will serve others as I lead them.

I will be a role model of integrity and tenacity.

I will encourage and mentor others to live life to the fullest and be their best.

I will lead with integrity and passion. I will stand for what is right.

I will never forget to surround myself with other great leaders so that I can strive daily to become better myself. What about you? To whom can you look for leadership inspiration? Find them and learn all you can from them. Their lessons will be more valuable than gold!

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