5 Essential Leadership Principles for Success in Everything

Life Lessons I Learned from My Mom To Become A Better Leader

Mar 9, 2023 | By Will Hurd

Photo: My sister, brother, and I (seated) celebrating with my mom.

Photo: My sister, brother, and I (seated) celebrating with my mom.

I’ve always been and will always be a momma’s boy. Mary Alice Hurd wore many hats — a department store buyer, master seamstress, puppet maker, cosmetologist, beauty supply owner, and beauty school director. But her favorite role was being a mom, not just to her three wild kids, but to everyone she met. My mom joined her Heavenly Father on March 1, 2023, and while those who loved her will no longer get to enjoy her physical presence, we can try to live every day by the leadership principles she taught us to be better people.

Leadership Principle #1: Love What You Love

Photo: My mother Mary Alice Hurd, and father Bob Hurd, out on a date in the late 60s.

Photo: My mother Mary Alice Hurd, and father Bob Hurd, out on a date in the late 60s.

One of my mom’s most important leadership principles was to love what you love. Whether it’s a person, an activity, or a career, love what you love even if it’s not what society expects. My mom didn’t let social norms dictate who she was allowed to be happy with, and as a result she had a long, fulfilling 53-year relationship with my dad.

My parents dated for almost two years before getting married in 1971. They were an interracial couple at a time when it was barely legal—Loving v. Virginia, the landmark Supreme Court case that struck down bans on interracial marriage, had only been decided in 1967.

Soon after getting married my folks moved to San Antonio, Texas where being an interracial couple was far from en vogue and folks didn’t welcome change or new perspectives. When it was time to buy a house for their family of five, my mom would do the house hunting while my dad was traveling for his job. At house after house, realtors would give encouraging signals to my mom, but when she returned with my dad, the real estate agent would lie and tell them the house had been sold. The difficulty of buying a house wasn’t the only injustice my mom faced for loving who she loved. When my blond-haired, blue-eyed mom was toting dark-skinned kids around town, she got unwelcoming looks in grocery stores, department stores, and social gatherings. She was the target of incredulous comments, unending judgment, and found herself ostracized by colleagues, friends, and family.

My parents didn’t let the hardships they faced define them or weaken their love for one another. In an era when a biracial relationship was not welcome, my mom and dad defied bigotry, ran a prosperous business, and raised a successful family, because my mom loved what she loved.

Leadership Principle #2: Don’t Care About What Other People Think About You

Photo: My mom and I in 2018.

Photo: My mom and I in 2018.

In a social media age, where almost everyone is exceptionally nasty to people online to gain clicks and notoriety but mostly because the computer screen makes us forget that there are real live human beings on the other end, one of my mom’s most important leadership principles was to stop caring about what other people think about you.

I was bullied as a kid. I had messed-up teeth that weren’t fixed until high school. Until my late teens, I had a speech impediment. My last name rhymes with “nerd” (back when “nerd” was an insult) and “turd.” And I had a huge head—the same size in fourth grade as it is now. Plus, I wore a size 13 shoe in elementary school.

I was made fun of every day. In the first few years of elementary school, I cried three or four times a day. My mom always encouraged me to be myself, and not worry about what others thought of me. She taught me that the only opinions that really mattered were those of my loved ones.

When I finally listened to her leadership principles, I got to a point where I quit caring what the bullies thought of me. When I stopped caring, I stopped crying. When I stopped reacting, they stopped mocking me.

Caring only about what your loved ones think of you doesn’t mean callousness toward others. Leaders pay attention to others. Empathy – the ability to understand another person’s feelings, and compassion – the desire to reduce the suffering of another, are critical to becoming an inspiring leader. 

A key takeaway from this leadership principle is that the best leaders should be confident in their decisions. If you’re only worried about what your loved ones think of you, you won’t be as likely to second-guess yourself or feel insecure. If you follow my mom’s leadership principles and trust your gut and stop worrying about what other people think about you then the confidence you will gain is a key part of being a successful leader.

Leadership Principle #3: Be Honest with Yourself. You Can Always Do Better

Photo: With my family at my graduation from Texas A&M University

Photo: With my family at my graduation from Texas A&M University

My mom always taught me that no matter how well I did in school, in sports, or in life, I could always do better. One of her leadership principles was to never settle.

The hardest I had ever cried was in the fourth grade. I was sobbing uncontrollably on the bus from school to home. I was minutes away from having to confess to my mother that I had done something I had never done before—I got a B on my report card.

In our household, grades below excellent (all As) were not welcome. If I brought home a report card where I dropped from a 98 to a 96, my mom would be on my ass about why I hadn’t gone up to 100 instead. She was always loving, but when it came to performance at school—She. Did. Not. Play. Exceptional was the only outcome accepted. My mother’s high expectations are why I have such exacting standards now, including for myself.

From my mom’s guidance I learned the importance of being honest with myself. It’s easy to make excuses, to rationalize why we don’t put in the extra effort, but my mom never let me do that. She always pushed me to look inward, to be honest with myself, and to strive for excellence. 

As a country we could take a play out of my mother’s book and follow her leadership principles. America shouldn’t settle for anything less than exceptional when it comes to training the workforce of tomorrow, building the infrastructure of the future, or having the best healthcare for our citizens. We should be honest with ourselves and accept the fact that we can and should do better.

Leadership Principle #4: Be Part of the Solution, Not Part of the Problem

Photo: My mom and I the night I won my first election at Texas A&M University.

Photo: My mom and I the night I won my first election at Texas A&M University.

My mom always told me that I have a choice, I can be part of the problem or part of the solution, whether I was dealing with bullies in elementary school, or frustrated by the incompetence of our elected leaders when I was serving overseas as an undercover officer in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

This is the most difficult of her leadership principles to achieve, because this requires you to take responsibility for your actions. No matter what’s going on, you must own your role in it. In most situations you don’t have the luxury of waiting for others to tell you what to do. Take charge and make things happen. 

Most importantly this leadership principle requires resilience. My mother could have complained and bemoaned all the injustices she had to suffer, but she had the inner strength to carry on and live her truth. She didn’t contribute to the problems she was faced with; she provided an example to future generations of how to solve societal problems by being herself.

Leadership Principle #5: If You Put Good into the World, Good Comes Back

Mary Alice Hurd (1944 - 2023)

Mary Alice Hurd (1944 – 2023)

One of the most important leadership principles I learned from my mom is that if you put good into the world, good will come back to you. She was kind, compassionate, and empathetic. She loved her family and built strong relationships with her friends. She led our family by never pretending to have all the answers, but by leaning on all of us and listening to everyone’s perspectives.

She didn’t try to please everyone – She knew that was impossible to do, and a waste of time and energy. My mom focused her energies on the people who mattered to her the most. This is one of her leadership principles anyone can do.  

For leaders of organizations, this might mean focusing on the needs of just their own team and being relentless in serving your customers. If you’re a parent, it might mean being there for your kids no matter what. The important thing is to make sure your actions reflect your values, even if they don’t align with what everyone else thinks you should be doing.

I hope that by sharing the leadership principles my mom taught me, you will be able to take away some lessons that can help you be a better leader in your own life. My mom was an incredible woman who touched so many lives, and I am honored to carry on her legacy by sharing her wisdom with others. Though she’s gone, her influence lives on in all of us who were lucky enough to know her. I will miss my mom for the rest of my life, but I am so lucky, blessed, and thankful to be able to carry a part of her inside me on the rest of this journey. 

First time reading? If you want common sense takes on current events, national security, and technology then sign up below for “The Brief.” It’s a twice-a-month email on things that aren’t being discussed but should – all in 5 minutes or less.

Available Now!

Purchase your copy of Will's Book, American Reboot.

Purchase Learn More
Get The Brief

Gain access to a twice a month email with rational takes on things not being discussed but should - all in 5 minutes or less.

American Reboot:

An Idealist’s Guide to Getting Big Things Done

A clear-eyed, forward-thinking playbook for the country, rooted in timeless ideals of bipartisanship, inclusivity, and democratic values.

Sign Up