What does it take to earn a near-perfect approval from your people? What about having an astounding 94% of employees say they would recommend working for you to a friend? It takes true leadership and putting principles into action. Making them your walk and your talk, not just lip service or words on a poster.
Sheryl Palmer knows exactly how to do it because she has managed to lead her company to astounding rankings with her great leadership. Sheryl is the CEO of home builder Taylor Morrison and oversees more than 2,500 employees. When researching for my book, The Future Leader, I was able to talk to Sheryl about what it takes to become such a well-respected leader. Sheryl had amazing insights but was also incredibly humble. My biggest takeaway from talking with her is that great leaders don’t just read and study leadership—they put the principles into action and work to improve every day.
“I think our imagination is what limits us as businesspeople. We have to overcome our own barriers and limits and imagine the change we’re trying to create.”
Sheryl showcased this in a dramatic way when she put her people above everything else. A few years ago, Sheryl was faced with a huge obstacle when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Before taking leave to have surgery, Sheryl wrote two letters to her team: one telling them she would see them when she returned healthy in six weeks, and another asking them to make her proud and continue the work they had started when she didn’t make it. The day before her intensive surgery, Sheryl was working with the chairman of the board to finalize a big deal for Taylor Morrison and left with peace of mind that her team was in good hands and would continue the work. It could have been Sheryl’s last day on earth, and she spent time making sure her team was in the right place to succeed and take care of their people. That’s true leadership.
Sheryl views being a leader as a choice. She told me that once a person decides they really are a leader, there is no middle ground. It’s all-consuming and becomes your passion, not just who you are when you show up to work.
In her own words: “It made me a better leader because I was able to appreciate how important every interaction is, and not to take anything or anyone for granted. Many leaders go through their days fighting fires and not appreciating the golden rule of business: people work for people, not companies. A leader’s responsibility is to set the vision and not allow the business just to happen, but rather make relationships and interactions intentional, meaningful, and purposeful.”
As Sheryl says, really diving into leadership is incredibly difficult, but it is the most rewarding life journey in the world. This will become even more important for future leaders who will face growing challenges, an increasing pace of change, and a diverse workforce.
Sheryl made a full recovery from her brain surgery and is still leading the company she loves. She got to send the first letter to her team and continue working with them.
From talking to Sheryl, it became clear why she is so well respected by her employees and peers. She cares deeply and is incredibly passionate about her people. Everything she does at Taylor Morrison, from growing the company to delivering great service, is to support her employees and serve them. Her actions are authentic because being a leader to her is about so much more than just the title or corner office; it’s about making a difference and building real relationships.
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Being a great leader comes from something deep inside. It comes from finding a passion, building lasting relationships, and going all in. Instead of simply reading about leadership and understanding principles, the best leaders jump in and put those principles into action to improve the lives of their people every day.
I’ll leave you with this quote from Sheryl that I hope will inspire and motivate you to be a better leader.
“The most blessed opportunity I’ve had in my career is to lead Taylor Morrison, but let’s be real. This is not Sheryl doing this. This is a company of 2,600 team members, and what happens sometimes is that leaders forget that. They forget where they came from. They forget the path they traveled. They forget actually who they are, and they certainly forget about the importance of the people around them. Resist that at all costs and don’t forget what’s important in each and every day as you lead a company.”
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