Julius Caesar is quoted as saying, “Experience is the teacher of all things.” For leaders, this means that each day is the opportunity to learn, grow, and become a better leader. We can learn from the examples of good and bad leaders and improve upon our own style. We are all leading and extending influence at some level. The question is whether we recognize that fact and whether we are intentional in our growth as a leader.
Mark Henry, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, shared with me that his real training as a leader came from “watching other leaders as they interacted and taking mental notes.” Henry has enjoyed a very distinguished career and worked with some very impactful leaders. A native of Louisville, he graduated with honors from Mississippi State University where he was named to the hall of fame.He went on to earn his law degree from the University of Mississippi and clerked for the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and former Gov. J. P. Coleman. After practicing law in Hattiesburg, he joined the Reagan Administration where he served first in the Office of the General Counsel at the Department of Agriculture and later as the special assistant to the deputy general counsel at the Department of Energy.
After coming back home to Mississippi, Henry returned to private law practice for a season before entering a life of public service. He served in several roles for the Fordice Administration including as chief legal counsel and chief of staff. Henry also went on to serve for eight years as a Judge at the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission before serving as Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant’s chief of Staff in 2008. In 2012, Gov. Bryant appointed Henry to his current post with MDES where he leads an organization focused on helping Mississippi residents get jobs. I learned that in 2012, MDES assisted 40,000 Mississippians get jobs through 55 job centers and computer database programs.
Henry noted that he learned a lot from Fordice’s leadership style about how to be straight forward and decisive as a leader. He also shared, “Gov. Fordice stood up for and supported his staff, which I try my hardest to do today.” Gov. Fordice was known for his occasional emotional outburst, and Henry said, “although Gov. Fordice never raised his voice to me, showing anger with employees is typically counterproductive.” He has observed that, “the more emotional I become, the more emotional the other employees become.” Henry added, “Although a leader can be dissatisfied, civility in the workplace will get you a lot further than running a dictatorship.” While leaders don’t have to be zombies, I strongly agree with Henry’s point and have found that great leaders are calming forces and encouragers to those around them.
Henry advises leaders to be on the lookout for new ideas throughout the organization. He wisely noted, “Not all ideas must come from top management. Any employee may sometimes have the million-dollar answer, so it is important to listen.” He also reminds leaders that they set the tone and vision for the organization. Henry believes Ronald Reagan was a great example of this leadership quality. He said, “President Reagan would present a clear vision, identify the goal to be reached, and lastly ask the team ‘how do we reach that goal.’”
Henry and other dedicated public servant leaders like him make a difference day in and day out in our state. His story is a great reminder of how we can learn and develop as a leader throughout our careers and extend leadership and positive influence in multiple venues.
Up Close With Mark Henry
Title: Executive director, Mississippi Department of Employment Security
Favorite Books: ”The Lord of the Rings by J RR Tolkien. I have read it four times, twice for myself and once to each of my children; The Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk”
First Job: “I worked on the assembly line making boxes for Spartus Clock Factory in Louisville — a few weeks of that job inspired me to take the FCC exam and work for the local radio station.”
Favorite place to visit: Williamsburg, Va.
Hobbies/Interests: Reading, travel, and politics