I’m a huge fan of the New York Yankees, and one of my top three players of all time is Derek Jeter. (The other two are Thurman Munson and Bucky Dent.) For Father’s Day last year, my kids got me a Yankees trivia book. I was looking at it recently and saw that when Derek Jeter attended middle school in Kalamazoo, Michigan, he had to write an essay about what he wanted to be when he grew up. “I am going to be the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees,” he wrote. The rest, of course, is history. Jeter didn’t just end up being the starting shortstop, but team captain and clubhouse leader.
Similarly, my close friend Brian Flegel knew from an early age what he wanted to be. In his case, it was a builder. He attended Penn State and graduated with a degree in architectural engineering. He’s now an executive vice president at Clark Construction, one of the top building and civil construction firms in the country. Brian has led teams on some of Washington DC’s most iconic buildings, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Museum of the Bible. We got talking the other day, and Brian said something that stuck with me: “Tommy, I’m fifty-four years old, and I’ve been blessed to have built a lot of cool buildings in my career. But I only just realized that I don’t build buildings—I build people.” Brian explained that what makes him most proud is the culture he has helped build at Clark Construction, whose employees are like family to him.
Brian was on my mind a few weeks ago, when I was hosting our Heart-Led Leader Women’s retreat in Scottsdale, Arizona. One of the participants was Mimi Coomler, who is the president and chief executive officer of Tucson Medical Center, widely considered one of the best hospitals in Arizona. Mimi has wanted to be a leader for as far back as she can remember. But she realized recently that her C-level position meant she was often removed from the patients she serves. They weren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet, but real people who were trusting Mimi’s hospital with their lives. After returning from the retreat, Mimi made it a point to walk the halls and check in regularly on her patients. She recently met a mom whose daughter was dying of cancer. Mimi knew there were no words that could make her feel better, so she hugged and prayed with her. “Everyone in these halls has a story,” Mimi told me, “And I can never forget that.”
I’ve always been envious of people who knew exactly what they wanted to do from an early age and found a way to achieve that dream. It’s a trait that unites Derek Jeter, Brian Flegel, and Mimi Coomler—people who otherwise have little in common. But here’s what makes them even more special: After achieving their dreams, they reached even higher. They understood that being an all-star shortstop, a preeminent builder, and a high-level CEO wasn’t about the title, but about the people they were bringing together and influencing.
Derek Jeter became only the fifteenth captain in Yankees history because he understood how he was seen by his teammates, and more importantly, by his city. Unlike so many athletes these days, he never got in trouble, never made the news for the wrong reason, and when he retired in 2014, even the opposing crowds were giving him standing ovations. Brian Flegel sees the stadiums, offices, museums, and homes he builds not as lifeless concrete and glass structures, but as places where people come together. Mimi Coomler, meanwhile, has taken her twenty years’ worth of experience as a registered nurse and imbued her new job as chief executive officer with a degree of humanity, empathy, and kindness that is so rare these days.
You might be one of those lucky few who achieved that childhood dream. Or maybe you’re like me, and your dreams have changed a bit over the years. (My 2.0 GPA in high school and college basically guaranteed I would never become a defense lawyer.) Perhaps you’ve achieved your grandest ambitions, or perhaps you still have a long way to go. But when you do reach that mountaintop, never forget that there is a lot more to life than a job title. Take stock of the people who have stood by you on your journey. Keep track of those who depend on your leadership. Know who you influence on a day-to-day basis in big and small ways.
Because at the end of the day, there is a lot more to being a Yankee than playing shortstop, there is a lot more to being a builder than concrete, and there is a lot more to being a CEO than a corner office. No matter what you do, redefine your career and your legacy not by your position or your title, but by the people you love and serve.