There is an age old debate over whether leaders are born or made. While I am not going to weigh on that debate in this column, I do find it particularly interesting when I come across outstanding leaders that I happened to have met in their youth. I played competitive tennis growing up, and I remember being whipped a few times by Columbus native Moak Griffin. Today, Griffin is CEO elect of BankFirst Financial Services, a $700-million community bank based in Northeast and Central Mississippi. As I reflect back, I remember Griffin being a focused, purpose driven young man who was well liked by both his friends and competitors.
Griffin graduated from Mississippi State and gained business experience working in Chicago for Harris C. Brumfield where he traded at the Chicago Board of Trade and managed a private bond trading operation. He also worked in Houston, Texas, as insurance and investment services broker for large physician groups. At the age of 31, he decided to return to his hometown of Columbus, and he began his banking career. At BankFirst, Griffin has served in a variety of roles including president of BankFirst Insurance Services. His leadership has obviously been recognized as he has recently been named CEO elect of the bank.
Griffin’s leadership philosophy is to make sure those around him have a sense of purpose for what the team or organization is trying to accomplish. He noted, “Once we all have a sense of purpose or a reason to believe in what we are doing, then leading others becomes very exciting.” One of his favorite quotes is from Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great.” “In the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work.” Like other great leaders I have met, he is servant oriented. Griffin recognizes the virtuous cycle that when a leader serves his or her management team, then the management team will in turn serve and support the front line employees who will then be willing and inspired to serve the customer base.
One of the other characteristics of servant leaders like Griffin is that they help the people around them succeed by getting vested in their success and supporting them 100 percent. He emphasized how important it is to recognize employees for their achievements. Griffin referenced the Harry S. Truman quote, “You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit.” Great leaders empower their employees to make decisions and take ownership rather than micro-managing. Griffin is intentional in making leadership development a priority. He purposely develops leaders in his organization, and makes leadership a priority for the organization.
One of the key aspects of leadership is decision making. Leaders need to be able to make timely and informed decisions to propel their organization. Otherwise, organizations become paralyzed and lack strategic focus. Griffin believes that leaders must believe and trust in themselves. He noted, “You will make mistakes as a leader but if you fail to act on making 10 good decisions in fear of making one bad decision, then you cannot lead. If you want others to follow you, you have to believe in your decisions and your vision.” This is a great point and good decision making is probably not talked about enough in leadership development. Like other important skills, it takes practice and courage to make good decisions. As a person of faith, Griffin shared that he believes in the power of prayer and the importance of wisdom for leaders in positions of authority.
I always enjoy learning about leaders like Griffin who ventured out to gain experience and choose to come back to Mississippi to share their expertise and talents. That is how we build a great state. I just hope he has not been practicing his tennis and will give me a rematch one day!