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The courage to aim your vision high


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“People will break stuff; learn to forgive them.” That was just one piece of wisdom that Bud Ahearn, retired Vice Chairman of CH2M HILL and former Air Force Major General, offered to a small gathering of riveted CEOs recently. I was lucky enough to be one of them. “What do you stand for; whom do you stand with; what do you stand on?” he challenged. “How do you build a company that’s going to last 100 years?”

Bud was, of course, talking about leadership. Leaders who have the courage to create a vision and aim it high—a vision that inspires and empowers people to discover their full power and potential. Humble leaders who allow their people to step up and step out on things that matter to them. Leaders who act with integrity, doing what they say they’ll do. These leaders create abundant thinking and cultures focused on getting the work done—putting people first and building companies with the potential to last at least 100 years.

The qualities of outstanding leaders and what they can accomplish are best explained by the people who experience them. For example, one co-worker referenced a “Chain of Cs,” which includes courage commitment, compassion, content and so forth; and then wrote about Bud: “When I think about you, I think of a Chain of Gs: generosity, graciousness, gratitude, God-centered, greatness, giving, goal-oriented, goofy (in the fun loving sense of the word) and just plain goodness.”

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to share more about this outstanding leader from the eyes of his team. Whatever your vision is, if it’s strong and you have the courage to live it, you will spread a sense of abundance that brings enormous benefits to the people around you—and to your company as well.

Following are more excerpts from Bud Ahearn’s CH2M HILL, “good-bye” page—proof positive that he lives the words of wisdom he shares.

  • You are the hero of heroes and quite simply, this world needs more heroes like you.
  • You have always found the good in everything you've come across and I am eternally grateful for all that you have done and for all that you stand for.
  • I have been inspired by your gentleness of spirit, keenness of insight, and your ready humor.
  • Vision, focus and drive are the hallmarks of success and you have understood this and brought these qualities to all you have touched.
  • You have made a difference and the world will be better because of your special way of lifting expectations and delivering exceptional results. Nothing is more important to that mission than the undiminished concern for your teammates, family and friends.
  • Your legacy is filled with hundreds of individuals you have inspired to become better citizens and leaders through your values, commitment, and unselfish approach to life.
  • You have set an example for positive leadership through your character, courage, compassion, and wisdom.
  • You challenged us and inspired us, you were a rare role model of character and strong values for all of us to emulate, and you encouraged us to appreciate abundance.

My Thanksgiving wish for you, and for myself, is that all of us who are leaders someday read “good-bye” comments about ourselves that sound exactly like Bud Ahearn’s. Meeting that standard is, indeed, a vision that aims high.

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Kathleen Quinn Votaw

Kathleen Quinn Votaw is CEO of TalenTrust. Her first book, Solve the People Puzzle; How High-Growth Companies Attract and Retain Top Talent, debuted in February 2016. Her firm has achieved several awards, including recognition from Inc.5000 in 2015 and 2016. She speaks frequently and advises CEOs on trends in talent and how to be strategic in developing a people strategy. Kathleen has served on several nonprofit boards including Colorado Companies to Watch and ACG-Denver. Reach Kathleen at kvotaw@talentrust.com or 303-838-3334.

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