Leadership Interview – Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens

This is the second in a series of interviews I am doing with established and respected leaders on the topic of leadership as part of my Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI) assignments.

Today I had the great pleasure of meeting with Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens who became the new mayor of Woodbury on January 12, 2011 — the 1st woman and the 5th in the city’s history.

Being a resident of Woodbury for over 10 years and being a loyal reader of the local newspaper, Woodbury Bulletin, for the same amount of time, I am familiar with the names of people who are active in the community – from city and county governments, school district and non-profit organizations to local businesses. I knew Mayor Stephens from a distance, through newspapers, but had never met her in person. So I was glad to have a chance to meet and chat with her in Central Park this morning.

Stephens is a lawyer by trade. She wanted to be a lawyer when she was in high school. But in her heart, she is also a volunteer, a community leader and a public servant.

Stephens’ leadership role started when she was at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul. She was involved in the Student bar Association.

During her 26 years of living in Woodbury, Stephens has been very active in serving the community through various organizations – Woodbury Jaycees, Woodbury Athletic Association, Woodbury Soccer Board, New Life Educational Foundation, Woodbury Prayer Breakfast, Woodbury City Council, Woodbury Community Foundation, etc.

Stephens’ life experience is a testimony of a servant leader.

When I asked her what the most critical attributes are to successful leadership, I was not surprised by her response: “Servant, humility and empowerment. Many leaders are driven and task-oriented. But relationships and being people-oriented are more important to successful leadership.”

I asked Mayor Stephens whom she admires as a leader, and why, she said her father and her husband.

“My father is an cardiologist and my husband is a lawyer. They both have successful careers and competency. But more importantly, they have characters and high integrity. They are trustworthy, authentic and likable. They act the way they are inside. They communicate well. They always want to do better, be better and learn more. They know how to set the priorities right – faith, family and work – and have a balance in life. My husband likes to read, write and teach about leadership skills. He is writing books on leadership.”

Stephens agreed with my comment wholeheartedly when I told her: “You are so blessed in every aspect of your life.”

“Yes, I feel very blessed and thank God every day. I have a very loving and supportive husband. He is behind me in everything I do – resigning from my partnership to spend more time with our children, running for the Woodbury City Council and Mayor. He provides the financial means for me to do what I love to do. I have two wonderful children. Now I have a grandchild and another one on the way. I love the job as the Mayor and serving the community. I am truly blessed.”

The Stephens worship at the Eagle Brook Church which just opened a Woodbury Campus at East Ridge High School last month.

“What are the hardest part of becoming a leader?” I asked her.

“Making and acknowledging mistakes. Being accountable for what you do. I know I don’t know everything and I am not good at everything. But I am surrounded by smart people. I make sure that I am open to other people’s opinion and learn from them.”

A word of wisdom from Mayor Stephens:

“Don’t let the low points in life frustrate you and discourage you from trying again. Don’t let the high points cause you to rest on your laurels and stop you from reaching higher.”

As I left our meeting, I couldn’t help but thinking that if everyone could set priorities right in life, his or her life would be really blessed, just as Mayor Stephens and her family have experienced in their lives.