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
Updated: Dec 27, 2023
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. My mother, Mary Alice Hurd, had a leadership style that adapted to the many hats she wore over her life — a department store buyer, master seamstress, puppet maker, cosmetologist, beauty supply owner, and beauty school director. Her favorite role was being a mom. She loved 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 every day to be better people by following the leadership principles she taught us.

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.

Regardless of your leadership style, if you don’t have passion for whatever you are doing if will be hard for you to be effective.

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 this social media age, it seems that almost everyone’s leadership style is to be exceptionally nasty to people online to gain clicks and notoriety. Being behind a computer screen makes people forget that there are real live human beings on the receiving end of the nastiness, but this is where one of my mom’s most important leadership principles comes in: stop caring about what other people think about you.

This was a difficult leadership skill to master and one of the topics i get into in my first book American Reboot. 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 started understanding 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. 

This leadership principle is about self-awareness. Effective leadership starts with having a clear understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses, values and beliefs, and how your actions affect others. This self-awareness allows you to make better decisions, communicate more effectively, and lead with authenticity.

Another 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 you will gain a key ingredient of being a successful leader – confidence.

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. My parents made it very clear why education is important. 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 mom was all about delivering results well before Jeff Bezos used this concept as one of his bedrock amazon leadership principles to build one of the world’s most profitable companies. My mother’s high expectations are why I have such exacting standards now, including for myself. My mom used this constructive criticism as a tool for continous learning because she knew there was always room for self-improvement.

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 and to strive for excellence. Over my various careers, I’ve seen the best leaders do this too.  

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 lack of good leadership from our elected officials 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. Having this type of leadership style requires you to take responsibility for your actions. No matter what’s going on, you must own your role in it, and be comfortable with decision making.

In most situations you don’t have the luxury of waiting for others to tell you what to do. Leaders are often faced with tough decisions, and they need to be able to make these decisions confidently and effectively. This involves evaluating all the available information, considering the potential impacts of different options, and then making a decision that is in the best interest of the team or the organization. You have to 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.

This leadership principle gives you a frame for how you can evaluate taking calculated risks. Putting good into the world doesn’t mean being reckless or impulsive. It means carefully considering the potential risks and rewards of a decision and then taking action when the potential benefits outweigh the risks and is good for others.

My mom didn’t try to please everyone – She knew that was impossible to do, and a waste of time and energy. She 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 leadership style and actions reflect your values, even if they don’t align with what everyone else thinks you should be doing.

The Lasting Impact of Mary Alice Hurd’s Leadership Principles

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. These principles are not just theoretical concepts, but practical tools that can be applied in real-world scenarios to drive success and foster professional development.

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. 

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American Reboot

An Idealist's Guide to Getting Big Things Done

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About the book

Will draws on his unique experiences in back alleys of dangerous places, boardrooms of international businesses, and the halls of Congress to lay out a detailed plan to “reboot America,” offering a fresh start to a country mired in political divides and internal strife.

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Will Hurd tells a great story about his life and his experiences in the CIA, private business, and as a Congressman.

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This is one of the best books I have ever read. Part personal story, part political analysis, but mainly just common sense thinking and analysis of solutions to problems.

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A life long Republican I had lost hope that I would ever vote Republican again after the extremist views have taken over the party over the last 6 years.

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Hurd has the biography and the charisma and the God-given political chops to put the Republican Party — and the rest of the country — on notice.
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About Will

Will Hurd has spent the past 20 years on the front lines of the most pressing fights facing our nation, in the Middle East, Congress, and the highest levels of business and tech.

Will has spent his life fighting for our country, and he will take those decades of experience with him as he fights for all us.

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I dream of an America where we have the smartest kids in the world. Every child in the U.S., regardless of location or age, should have access to a safe, world-class education.


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In every decision we make, we stand at a crossroads. The path of division and quick fixes is well-trodden, but it’s time we consider a different route – one paved with unity and foresight.

Imagine an America where common sense prevails, where policies are crafted with the people’s best interests at heart, and our collective strengths are the foundation of national progress.

This is more than a possibility. It’s a choice we can make right now. By coming together, we have the power to foster a nation that champions innovation, inclusivity, and integrity.

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Believe it’s important to protect free speech
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Say it is important for the country to do more regarding race inequality
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We’re a nation full of people with these values. If this describes you, you might be a modern Republican.

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Strong old school manners. You respect others, and say "please" and "thank you"


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No matter street smarts or book smarts, you understand an education is important

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You put your family above everything and do everything you can to succeed


You take responsibility for your actions and believe in personal responsibility


You help others and you're always quick to smile


You don't let a little hardship get in your way


You know that we're better together and you are ready to help
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