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Ambassador Charles A. Ray

As a gag several months back, I used one of those computerized sign generators to make a little poster of Bart Simpson writing on a chalkboard, "I am what my grandmother made me." This was a parody of the central thesis of my book, Things I Learned from My Grandmother about Leadership and Life."

I’ve since had occasion to reflect on that sentence and I’ve come to the conclusion that what I meant originally as a joke has a larger truth imbedded within it. Furthermore, I realized that for leaders, this is a truth that must be fully grasped. As we mature, we are shaped by our education and experience, but the basic core of who we are has already been formed by those who guided and mentored us in our early formative years. For many of those of my generation that was largely grandmothers and other older relatives who were too old to work in the fields; and to whom fell the responsibility of "taking care of the young-uns."

Places like West Point or the Harvard School of Business might teach us the sophisticated techniques for gaining the trust of our followers, but the basic traits of honesty and integrity either will or will not have been engraved into our behavior at the knees of that older relative before we hit our mid-teens. Lacking an inherent honesty, the techniques you learn later in life become merely tools of manipulation and exploitation.

Self-confidence is enhanced by increased knowledge and experience. But, a true belief in yourself and your ability to succeed will have been learned from a caregiver who treated you with respect and taught you that you were a person of worth.

This is not to say that people are incapable of change. Far from it, but, without understanding the influences that have shaped a person during the formative years of childhood, change is more difficult.

Most importantly, though, if you’re to understand what motivates you as a leader, it helps to consider your upbringing. You might be surprised to learn that your habits and preferences in leadership or in life in general, stem from what you learned as a child. Once you have that knowledge about where you came from, you can more clearly see where you are, and plan intelligently and effectively for where you want to be.

I’d be interested in reader reactions to this view, and can be reached at For additional writing on leadership and other social issues, check my blog at

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