by Stephanie Tolleson
When referencing leaders, we typically think of the CEO, the President, the Big Titles. In our daily lives, though, we find leaders everywhere as we are all regularly called upon to lead by example.
As parents, we know the way we lead our lives sets a lasting impression for our children. While stating the rules is critical, it’s living by these rules that truly establishes behavior and expectations within a family unit.
Likewise, in the classroom, while lectures have their place, we know the teacher who fully interacts with her students creates an environment within which creative thinking and engaged learning flourishes.
On the field, we know the coach who can inspire individual players to excel as one part of a shared greatness, is building a team, not just a following.
From my perspective, great leaders understand it’s all about building an authentic culture where individuals are challenged to reach their own potential within a community they want to help succeed, and within which they are respected. That holds true within a family, in a classroom, on the field or in business.
As such, I’m amazed at the number of companies that are led by individuals who don’t engage with or listen to their employees, who define their community from an entitled distance, who expect those working for them to “do as I say, not as I do”. These leaders are destined to fail if any measure of success is related to employee job satisfaction. They see no value in building families or teams; they’re building egos, bank accounts, press clippings.
I’ve had the good fortune to work with and observe talented leaders. Some, destined for greatness, have spent years studying, researching and engaging in conversation around the responsibility leadership bears; others were recruited into roles they never sought when communities recognized a natural leader they wished to follow.
One such leader whom I’ve had the privilege to watch up close is Billie Jean King. She focused her work on becoming the best tennis player in the world, never expecting to become the beacon of a cause for an entire generation of women. Most of us (thankfully) are called upon to represent a much smaller group, but hopefully we do so with passion and concern for those we lead.
Early in her athletic career, Stephanie Tolleson was a highly ranked junior tennis player, won the NCAA singles title and helped her team win back-to-back national championships. She turned professional and competed in the U.S. Open and Wimbledon.
Having achieved major athletic success, she began to focus on the business side of tennis working with World Team Tennis and subsequently sustaining 25-year career with sports marketing giant International Marketing Group (IMG).
Stephanie quickly rose up the ranks into client management, personally representing a number of the world’s top ranked players, including Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Monica Seles, and Venus and Serena Williams. She negotiated record-setting commercial endorsements for female athletes, including the largest sponsorship ever in women’s sports.
Since retiring from IMG, Stephanie has directed her energy to her family, friends and important work around the U.S. First and foremost to her are her daughter, Taylor, and her husband, Peter Johnson. She coached Taylor’s high school tennis team to a terrific season this fall, and she and Peter are involved with the development of an amazing sports and academic facility, which will greatly benefit thousands of athletes, not only in Ohio, but also throughout the country.
I first got to know Stephanie when she chaired the board of trustees of the Women’s Sports Foundation. I got to know first hand the leader that she is. She is committed and unwavering in using her skills to help this world be a better place.
While an accomplished, strong leader, Stephanie cares deeply about others, has a huge heart, and no personal ego. I greatly respect her style!