My friend and mentor Dr. Carl Hicks likes to say, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” He shares this to encourage his coaching clients to live authentic lives – not to chase someone else’s dream. As I have studied the lives of great leaders, I have found that they express their leadership in their own individual way. They don’t follow a simple formula or simply mimic someone else. This can be particularly challenging when you are stepping into a leadership role following a strong leader. It can be a real challenge to carve your own path. I often see this when consulting with family businesses who are trying to navigate intergenerational leadership changes.
Jan Cossitt, who serves as program manager at the Baptist Healthplex in Clinton and chairman of the board of BuyfromaChristian.com, has expressed her leadership in her own authentic way. Cossitt was raised in Cotton Plant, Miss., and she went on to get her undergraduate at the Mississippi University for Women, her master’s degree in counseling from Mississippi College and she is working on a master’s in religious education from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Her extensive career in leadership includes serving as a teacher, an entrepreneur and as a ministry leader in several churches and organizations.
I have noted the simple fact over the years that “Leaders lead.” They don’t wait for a title — they simply take a servant approach and step out in leadership where it is needed. Cossitt has a familiar resume of stepping out and serving as an active leader in her community. She has served as the leader of numerous civic organizations, and she was recently elected as an alderwoman for the City of Clinton.
Cossitt noted, “I don’t think there are definitive styles, characteristics or personality traits of a leader. There are no cookie-cutter leadership styles.” She continued, “No one can be an authentic leader by trying to imitate someone else. You can learn from their experiences, but there is no way you can be successful when you are trying to be like someone else.” Cossitt believes that people trust you when you are genuine and authentic and not a replica of someone else. Therefore, she concludes, “Be yourself. Develop your God-given talents and abilities and be the leader He intended you to be.”
Cossitt shared that she learned this philosophy from one of her mentors, Marjean Patterson, who served as a leader at the Mississippi Woman’s Missionary Union for over 41 years. Cossitt said, “I learned from her to be who I am and not to try and emulate someone else.” Cossitt also learned from her that “a real leader demonstrates a passion for their purpose, practice their values consistently, and leads with their hearts as well as their heads.”
One of the things I recognized in Cossitt’s leadership style is a long term commitment to excellence. She emphasized, “Like musicians and athletes, you must devote yourself to a lifetime of realizing your potential.” Cossitt believes that all of us have the gift of leadership in us, whether it is in business, in government, as a volunteer, or part of a family. She said, “The challenge is to understand ourselves well enough to discover where we can use our leadership gifts to serve others.” For future leaders, she reminds them that no one is going to hand them a leadership development plan for their lives. It is up to the individual to take responsibility and commit himself or herself to this long term path.
Leaders like Cossitt are the backbone of communities and organizations around this state. I appreciate the reminder from her of the importance of expressing our leadership style in our own authentic way.
» Martin Willoughby is a business consultant and regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. He serves as Chief Operating Officer of Butler Snow Advisory Services, LLC and can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.