4 Questions for Every Leader at Moments of Decision – from Teresa Pike Tomlinson


Teresa Pike Tomlinson, Sweet Briar College
Teresa Pike Tomlinson, Sweet Briar College

I have read the most remarkable speech. It was delivered as what appeared to be the last Commencement Address ever given at Sweet Briar College. (Now, it looks like they’ve got a second wind. Sweet Briar College is a women’s liberal arts college in Virginia. It was on the verge of closing permanently, but they have reopened, in lesser numbers, for the fall).

The speech was given by Teresa Pike Tomlinson, May 17, 2015.  She is a graduate of Sweet Briar College, accomplished attorney, and current Mayor of Columbus, Georgia.  (Read and watch the speech here).

The entire speech is worth reading — carefully.  But this is the excerpt to pay special attention to for all leaders, and all in the midst of decision making:

Many years ago, I was involved in some serious litigation of great proportion. No one in the case was younger than my father. It seemed everyone had gone to an Ivy League college or law school, and I was a thirty-something-year-old Sweet Briar-educated lawyer from Columbus, Georgia who dared to shed a light on things many felt best left in the dark. By all accounts this case was not going to go well for me. I knew that. Moments before a critical hearing began, I went to the only place I could be alone — the women’s restroom — and I stared into the mirror. There, a test of leadership was born, one I use to this day and I commend to you. I asked:

1) Am I being reasonable?

2) Have I worked as hard as anyone possibly could on this matter and educated myself to all pertinent information?

3) Have I listened to, thoughtfully considered, and respected contrary views?

4) And lastly, are my motives pure? Do I just want the best right thing to be done, whatever that may be?

What is incredible about this litany is that it tests the foundation of justifiable righteousness, and on that basis, I knew I could say something bold and necessarily controversial. I had been fortified with courage by the answers to my test. I declared that I would go into the courtroom and say what others wanted to dance around and avoid. And I did. People sat slack-jawed as I explained what was going on. The judge’s attention was transfixed. My worthy adversaries had no reply. One finally uttered, “but, Judge, this isn’t the way we do things.” I, though, had convinced the judge that maybe it was time we did do things this way, and justice was done that day.

Transparency, candor are fresh, unexpected, and attention getting. People love the truth. That’s what they’re seeking…

Maybe we should all learn these four questions, and ask them at critical moments of decision making.

And, do yourself a favor – read this entire speech (the American Rhetoric site has the text and the video). It is just a remarkable speech!

2 thoughts on “4 Questions for Every Leader at Moments of Decision – from Teresa Pike Tomlinson

  1. It is not just a remarkable speech. It is outstanding! Teresa Tomlinson said what needed to be said with grace and dignity. She put the unrighteous to shame and spurred the righteous on to do great things. If she ever decides to run for national office, she has my vote.

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