One of my regrets in life is not traveling more in life when I had greater flexibility in my schedule. I have no one to blame but myself. I even had a professor in college warn me that I would regret it if I did not seize the opportunity early in life to travel and broaden my horizons! Travel exposes us to new ideas, new ways of thinking, and different cultures. For a leader this is a great attribute. Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot that successfully landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, shared about his family that, “We know that travel is such an important perspective-widening growth experience. We need to do a better job of educating our population and giving them a broader view of the world.” I agree with his point of view. Leadership requires perspective, and travel is one of the ways to broaden your perspective in life.
Mary Martha Henson is the new executive director of the Mississippi Economic Development Council, which serves as “the voice for Mississippi’s economic/community development and chamber of commerce professionals and their constituencies.” Henson recently took over this position for Carol Hardwick, who recently retired after serving in this role for many years. Henson is serious about her travel. She shared with me that she has traveled to all 50 states and abroad including a semester in Italy during college. In addition, Henson participated in a Rotary Exchange Program to Brazil. She said, “Traveling abroad and experiencing other cultures brings value to the table so that we all can benefit the better good.” Henson comes to her new role with an impressive resume of service. A graduate of Mississippi State University, she served for over seven years on Congressmen Chip Pickering’s staff. She went on to work for Capitol Resources in government relations, and most recently served as executive director of the Mississippi Biotechnology Association.
Even though she is still early in her career, Henson has established herself as a leader and was recognized by the Mississippi Business Journal as a Top 40 Under 40 in 2012. She noted that one of her mentors, Susan Butler who served as chief of staff for Congressmen Pickering, modeled for her how to balance her roles as an employee and a wife. She also noted mentors like Hank Moseley, Mike Lipski and Congressmen Pickering, who challenged her to be her best. Henson shared, “If you set high standards for yourself, the people that work with you will also have high standards. My mentors had high standards of work ethic, and thus I know have high standards.” Henson also believes that leaders should “take the road less traveled.” She acknowledged that even though that road can sometimes be harder that “it blends you into a better person and a leader.”
For future leaders, Henson encourage them to “find something to do in your career, something that you are passionate about, and do it!” She also advocates finding the proper balance between business and personal life. Her philosophy is that leaders should be intentional about “paying it forward.” By this she means that leaders should “invest in the people that you are around, give opportunities to those around you, and most importantly spend time with them.” Consistent with her emphasis on perspective, Henson believes that leaders are lifelong learners who are “always willing to acquire new knowledge in every situation life gives you.”
Bringing new opportunities to our state is mission critical. Henson and the members of her organization are on the front lines of the effort to improve the state with new jobs! It is encouraging to see passionate young leaders like Henson who are making a positive impact on our state.
Martin Willoughby, a business consultant in Jackson, is a regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. Willoughby can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.