“Man is the only one to whom the torture and death of his fellow creatures is amusing in itself.”
Monday, October 4, 2010
James A. Froude
English historian (1818 - 1894)
At about eight-years-of-age, rheumatic fever following a bout of measles kept me out of school and in bed for a year. My weekly visit to the local family doctor for an exam and shot of penicillin, along with toxic daily doses of aspirin was the treatment regime prescribed and administered by mom. Although I missed a full year of school, the teacher who visited me at home dutifully “placed” me in the next grade when I turned nine. The earlier absence from school and poor test results put me into a “special” group of children who were then called “retarded.” I rode the “small yellow bus” for a while. I didn’t learn to read or do basic math until the summer prior to entry into junior high school. The summer before beginning the 7th grade, I learned to read by attending an intensive remedial program and developing an interest in science fiction. (I have read every book written by Robert Heinlein and published before his death in 1988.) Yes, I was really a nerd in every aspect of dress and behavior. The earlier primary school experience didn’t leave me feeling very good about me. I had no confidence, was shy and withdrawn.
I met Mrs. Phyllis Stroud in the 8th grade. (I tried unsuccessfully a few years ago to locate her to offer my sincere thanks. I know she is now dead as she is listed as deceased on the website for the Redlands Footlighters Theatre. She had to have been already 60 when she taught me.) Somehow my class schedule included an assignment in her speech class. She was the best teacher in my life. I failed to thank her for her competent teaching skills, honest and inspiring interest in me, and forward-looking expression to me about what was possible in my life. With her support, my speaking skills and stage skills developed enough to allow me to win awards in speech and debate throughout my high school years; more importantly to build a sense of confidence and self-esteem.
This wonderful woman, a teacher of 13-, 14-, and 15-year-old children, demonstrated traits of leadership. I know now that she led children to become better people. (If you are so inclined, read Kouzes and Posner’s research into leadership in the book The Leadership Challenge, which discusses these foundational leader skills.) She was a leader.
I have worked for a lot of people with different titles during the last three decades. Almost all of these folks have been managers, not leaders. Some of these people have gone to school to learn about management and business. Their academic programs awarded degrees in leadership. Leadership may be a substantial field of academia, but its theories are still conjectural and, so far, irreproducible. Schools claiming to educate leaders miss the point: Anyone can learn skills to manage, but leaders are not made.
It brings me to my premise: Few of us are leaders, capable of inspiring others. We can employ behaviors to maximize results; to get the job done through others. We get our teams to work well together by integrating our actions with our values, being open to ideas, dealing justly with others, thinking creatively, recognizing that all members of the team are equal, and having a sense of humor. I think these are all important and necessary managerial traits. Good managers can motivate others to do their jobs. A good a manager may become a better manager.
But there is something more that defines a leader. Integrity -- that subtle blend of humility, wisdom, enthusiasm and devotion -- is what attracts a follower. When my teacher “walked the talk,” spent her time, attention and patience on me, she became someone I wanted to follow, irrespective of her age or official position. I wanted to please Mrs. Stroud and be like her.
Leaders are devoted and tireless in their efforts to bring out the best among their followers. I am still working on my repertoire of skills, after so many years, and am hopeful that my management skills are improving.