This week, a long-time colleague of mine Dr. Ralph Shedletsky decided to leave LHH Knightsbridge.
I first met Ralph in 2001 when I joined his firm as a senior consultant. At the time, I really didn’t know him that well; our specialties were in different practice areas. But, I did observe him from afar. I soon saw what would turn out to be his enduring characteristics.
Ralph was a savvy businessperson and a wise, thoughtful consultant. He was also a genuine supporter of his team. You knew that Ralph always had your back, no matter what the situation.
Several months after I joined Ralph’s firm, we were acquired by Knightsbridge Human Capital Solutions. My role began to evolve and I was able to spend more time working with Ralph directly. I got to see his magic when he worked with our clients. Many referred to him as “Yoda” because of his infinite wisdom and sage advice.
Everyone in the consulting industry aspires to be seen as a trusted advisor by clients. In reality, few ever achieve that status. Ralph was the trusted advisor to some of the most senior C-Suite leaders and directors.
I would often walk away from client meetings astonished by his presence and the connection he had with all of his clients. I remember saying to myself, “Maybe one day, I could be like Ralph.”
I believe that’s the hallmark of a really great leader – you respect them so much that you want to emulate them.
My funniest moment with Ralph happened several years ago when we were delivering a leadership development program for the top 100 partners of a big-four accounting firm. They were doing a leadership development initiative with us at a business school. Our role was to deliver a one-day coaching skills seminar on a Sunday.
Normally, this would not present a huge challenge. But in this case, scheduling the seminar on a Sunday would turn out to be an enormous problem.
The session took place in a typical business school lecture hall that had stadium-style seating that rose steeply from a pit at the bottom. As the facilitator for the day, I was standing in that pit at the front of the room surrounded by the accounting partners who were all glaring at me. It was clear from their body language that they had better ideas of how to spend an entire Sunday. Ralph was also there, sitting in the very back row of seats in the hall glaring down at me, waiting to see how I handled this hostile crowd.
No pressure at all.
I forged ahead with my presentation. Whenever we engaged in open discussions with the group, I would turn to Ralph and he would share his insights from up above.
From where I was standing in that room, Ralph’s voice echoed like the voice of God. I noticed every time he spoke, all eyes turned to him. As he shared his wisdom, the leaders feverishly took notes.
However, I could almost detect a collective sense of disappointment when everyone turned back to me as we continued with our agenda. It was probably my own insecurities coming out, but that’s what happens when you are in the presence of Ralph. While he’s often understated in his approach, he always brings tremendous depth and presence.
We got through the day, and ultimately it turned out to be quite successful. I really upped my game to make sure I was operating at Ralph’s level. Although I had felt that Ralph was overshadowing me, I ultimately realized that Ralph had helped me to be better than I could be on my own.
This week, as a parting gift, Ralph received a book in which his colleagues were able to share their personal sentiments about the impact he had on all of them.
As I read the comments, one immediately jumped out at me: “Ordinary colleagues like me have become extraordinary because they have been mentored by you.”
She so perfectly captured Ralph’s value as a leader: he made the people he worked with extraordinary.
As I reflected on those words, I realized so few leaders are ever able to achieve this. Some don’t know how. Others may be too selfish and spend all their time trying to make themselves extraordinary. Many don’t care enough about their people, so they don’t invest in them.
Many of the great leaders I’ve had the pleasure of working with have, like Ralph, helped me become a better person and a better leader. I believe this is what employees are yearning for today in our organizations. We desperately want to work with leaders who help us become better – maybe even extraordinary.
This week’s gut check pays tribute to my colleague Ralph and asks a critically important question: do you help the people you lead become extraordinary?