Lasting Leadership: An Impact for a Lifetime

Lasting Leadership: An Impact for a Lifetime

Leadership Reflections

“Never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat other people — your family, friends, and co-workers, and even strangers you meet along the way.” 
—Barbara Bush

Little did I know that in second grade I would meet someone who would influence my life and be my life-long leadership role model. But, when you have a Sunday school teacher who shares how important it is to treat people kindly, with dignity and respect, and you see those values exemplified in her own life as she Modeled the Way, you follow. And that’s what I have done.

With the recent passing of former First Lady Barbara Bush, I have lost one of my major role models. When we first met, my family was new to the church to which she and George H. W. Bush belonged. They became my second grade Sunday school teachers and her kindness in welcoming me into a class of strangers made me want to go back. She made me feel important – and encouraged my heart! A wonderful storyteller, she read books to us each Sunday which filled me with a love of learning and to value education. After years of service to families and children, I returned to my love of learning and embraced training others to be great leaders.

During future President Bush’s first term as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, my family planned a trip to Washington D.C. and, following protocol, made arrangements through his office for tours of the White House, the Capital, and the State Department. On the day of our scheduled tour, while waiting in line with all the other tourists to get a glimpse into the House of Representatives, Mrs. Bush walked by. She stopped and immediately whisked us off to the private family sitting area in the House of Representatives where we were able to stay and observe as long as we wanted. She sat with us, explained everything that was going on, and answered all our questions. Telling us that she knew “George” would want to see us and have a picture taken with him on the steps of the Capital, she then made it happen. That picture now hangs in my home.

As I grew older, visits with Mrs. Bush occurred when she returned to Houston for visits. When her husband served as Chief of the U.S. Liaison’s Office to China, she would come back and share fabulous stories of living in China and embracing the culture. She encouraged not only me but thousands more to embrace travel, learn about other cultures, and believe in something bigger than ourselves! Her inspiration allowed me to dream a vision that became a reality in my personal and professional life. Did she realize she was Inspiring a Shared Vision?

My family, of course, would also see the Bushes at church services and would be greeted so warmly and with such grace. One year, for example, as then Vice president and Mrs. Bush were leaving the Christmas Eve service and about to get into the waiting motorcade, Mrs. Bush turned and reached across the limousine to call to my mother, “Merry Christmas, Mary.”

I share this story for an important reason. My family was not in the same socio-economic group as the Bush family and we did not socialize with the same people. But Mrs. Bush always treated us as everyone wants to be treated—with dignity and respect—and in all ways that reflected her values, her vision of family, and her philosophy of life.

Mrs. Bush inspired my dreams and aspirations in those early years and as I was growing up clearly influenced some of my choices. While she always encouraged us to be our best, she also frequently reminded us that we needed to give back to our country in the form of public service. As a result, I have given more than 40 years to the State of Texas in a variety of roles as a public service employee, of which I am proud. And I have Barbara Bush, and the way she lived her values, to thank. I can only hope that in my continuing leadership journey, I demonstrate and live my values as clearly.

Denise McDonald
is a Certified Master-in-Training of The Leadership Challenge® and Leadership for Advanced Management trainer at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Her service to the agency includes more than 35 years leading others. She can be reached at


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