by Steve Adubato, PhD
By any standard, Virginia Bauer is an exceptional leader. What is particularly interesting about her is that she didn't come to leadership by any traditional route. Virginia lost her husband David, who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center, on September 11. Years back, Ginny (as she likes to be called) worked for Merrill Lynch. But for the next 17 years she dedicated most of her life to her 3 children. But as was the case for thousands of people in our area, 9/11 changed everything.
But Ginny felt she had no choice but to step up and lead. While dealing with her own grief and loss she began organizing the widows and family members of 9/11 victims. There was a narrow window of opportunity from September 11 to the end of 2001 to enact federal tax relief legislation for surviving family members. She testified before Congress and communicated very directly with US Senators as well as White House officials about the need to get this legislation signed quickly. She went on countless television programs to persuade the public that sympathy wasn't enough and that action was essential. In January 2002, along with her three children, Ginny stood next to President Bush while he signed the tax relief legislation benefiting 9/11 family members.
Because of those efforts, Governor Jim McGreevey asked Bauer to serve as executive director of the NJ Lottery. Today she leads the lottery effort in the state with the same passion and enthusiasm that she showed after 9/11. For Ginny Bauer, the key to her leadership style comes down to a few simple but powerful tools:
--Get to know your team. Says Ginny, "At least once or twice a day I make it a point to walk around and talk with the 150 people in our office. I simply say hi, wave or stop to have a one-on-one conversation. It creates a stronger sense of unity. For the lottery to be successful, I need to know my people. If I can help to make their jobs better, success will follow."
--Connect with your audience in order to persuade them. "I let them know that I care about them." What Ginny Bauer understands is that people have to know you care in order for them to care about what you have to say. Again, a simple but powerful leadership tool.
--Don't try to copy someone else's leadership style. Ginny says, "What has always helped me is being myself. If you are who you are and don't try to pretend to be something you are not, that is the key. Be comfortable in your own skin." But she warns, knowing yourself isn't enough. You also have to "know your material and know your subject."
--Know that you don't need to have all the answers. "I'm not afraid to ask questions. Sometimes a leader tries to fudge things and pretend he knows all. Some leaders feel that by asking a question, they will lose respect. But you really gain respect by asking honest questions and the wealth of information I've gained from my employees and those around me has helped me make some really great decisions."
The lesson of Ginny Bauer is pretty clear. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes and they don't all have Harvard MBA's. Often, people are put into positions because of unforeseen circumstances (sometimes tragedies) and find out what's really inside of themselves. One might say, these people lead from the heart. It's about an intense desire to make a difference in the lives of others. There are millions of Ginny Bauer's out there that lead in this inspiring way on a daily basis. We just don't know their names.