Leadership Lessons From Everyday Life
Ordinary people can do extraordinary things.
He was a high school dropout working behind the soda fountain of a Kentucky drugstore. No one would have predicted that the youth, who grew up poor with a troubled childhood and a limited education, would emerge to establish a worldwide corporation and become an incredibly wealthy individual. Yet Dave Thomas, founder of the Wendy's restaurant chain, did just that. When asked the secret of his success, he said: "I patterned my management style after people I really admired - one was one of my bosses, and another was Colonel Sanders [founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken]. I took the best of their strong points . . . and I enhanced them."
Dave Thomas is an inspiring and strong reminder that ordinary people can do extraordinary things; that are leadership and excellence lies within reach of every individual. Common to all who lead and succeed are several basic leadership qualities. It is important to know those because, in one way or another, all of us have leadership responsibilities in families, churches, corporations, civic organizations, volunteer groups, politics or athletics.
Here are seven vital leadership lessons from everyday life:
Humility. Initially, humility and leadership appear to be opposites. Yet, the best leaders are those who truly under-stand that they are no better than the people they lead. Humility combined with the power of leadership make a winning combination. "Common sense shines with a double luster when set in humility," observed William Penn. Humility is something that is found in modern leaders as well. When Robert Townsend became CEO of Avis in 1962 and established his company as a major force in the car-rental industry, Townsend also stunned the corporate world by eliminating executive dining rooms, parking spaces and other symbols of corporate privilege. He promoted humility, telling workers and associates: "Admit your mistakes openly, maybe even joyfully. Encourage your associates to do likewise by commiserating with them." This highly successful and admired CEO did not hesitate to admit his own mistakes. "But my mistakes were discussed openly. and most of them corrected with a little help from my friends," he said in Up the Organization, a book he wrote in 1970 after leaving Avis.
Courage. When the challenge is great and even overwhelming, true leaders courageously rise to the occasion. They feel the fear but proceed nevertheless. It is courage, more than talent, that achieves victories and scores gains in daily life. Courage is what led Cecelia Blanks from welfare mom to college professor. By age 21 she was a single mother of two children. To make ends meet, she did housework, retail jobs and enrolled in job-training programs. However, every dollar was used up for child care and rent. No higher-paying jobs ever materialized. Frustrated and realizing that life on welfare was no life at all, she summoned up the courage to do what her high school counselors told her she could never do - attend college. Disregarding those pessimistic voices, she enrolled at California State University, San Marcos. It was a two-hour bus ride from her apartment but she was determined to earn a bachelor's degree. "I did a lot of homework on those long bus rides," says Blanks who had to leave her house by 6 a.m. to make her first class.
Although it was a tough challenge with many discouraging moments, Blanks persisted and graduated. She continued on to earn a master's degree in counseling. Today, the mother of six is an adjunct professor at a community college in California. It was raw courage that enabled her to transform her life.
Perseverance. Courage is one side of the emotional coin. On the other side is perseverance - the ability to continue on in spite of roadblocks or obstacles. Another word for perseverance is willpower. "If the will is strong enough, anything can be accomplished; if the will is weak, very little. That is why I say that what counts most in life is not IQ but WQ, will quotient. In every endeavor, it is the man or woman with an unbreakable will who excels," notes author Eknath Easwaran. To verify his observation, Easwaran cites the example of students. "I have been a teacher for many years, and I can testify that the difference between an outstanding student and an average one is often not so much intelligence but the willpower to keep after a job until it gets done. No one likes to do homework. Something else is always more appealing. The good student, bright or not, is the one who can stick to an assignment until it is finished. Only then does he or she go out on the town. Students like this might not be brilliant, but they have the capacity to attain any realistic goal they set for themselves, not only in school but in life."
Compassion. The most effective and most appreciated leaders are those who lead with compassion. They think, speak and act nicely. Because the Golden Rule is their guiding creed, they treat others the way they would like to be treated. On the receiving end of compassion was Steven Bishop. At the height of his career and life, Bishop learned he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Only in his mid-30s with a wife and child, he was initially devastated by the diagnosis. Then, he and his wife appeared on the Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon, which aired his story. A few days later Bishop received a call from entertainer Jerry Lewis, who reached out saying, "I've been talking with some experts and they tell me that the mind is the No. 1 enemy of the ALS patient. So I'm appointing myself your positive mental-health counselor." Since then, Lewis has called the Bishops frequently, invited them to his Las Vegas home and to his yacht in San Diego. "That relation-ship has been the biggest honor of my life," Bishop says. "To do so much for us ... I can honestly say that Jerry Lewis has the biggest heart of anyone I've ever met."
Forgiveness. To forgive is to absolve another of their wrongdoing toward us. Forgiveness is extending mercy to someone who injured us in word or deed. The best of leaders know the importance of forgiveness. Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, is one of the world's great forgivers. That aspect of the man was indelibly impressed upon Hillary Clinton. In her book, Living History, she tells of attending a reception hosted by Mandela. Dignitaries from all over the world were present at his estate in South Africa. Mandela formally welcomed every-one and then said something that left Clinton in "awe." Mandela explained that he was pleased to have so many dignitaries present, but said he was most pleased to have in attendance three of his former jailers from the Robben Island prison. He had them stand so he could introduce them to the crowd. Clinton writes: "His generosity of spirit was inspiring and humbling. For months I had been preoccupied with the hostility in Washington and the mean-spirited attacks ... but here was Mandela honoring three men who had held him prisoner." Clinton was moved by witnessing the power of forgiveness that afternoon.
Persistence. This is the vital ability to rise after failing and falling. Those who lead always experience setbacks but they manage to step up and move on. Silent screen movie star Mary Pickford, perhaps reflecting on her own life and career, wrote: "If you have made mistakes, yes even serious mistakes, there is always another chance for you. And supposing you have tried and failed again and again, you may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call 'failure' is not the falling down, but the staying down."
Commitment. Those who lead effectively give it their all.. When they take on a task, they are fully engaged. They are not timid or hesitant because they know that only complete commitment leads to success in life and work. Musician Carlos Santana began playing guitar on the streets of Mexico when he was 11 years old. Although the Grammy-winning artist was eventually mentored by legendary musicians such as B. B. King and John Lee Hooker, Santana gives credit for most of his success to his high school art teacher, Mr. Knudsen.
As a teenager, Santana moved with his family to the United States. School held little interest for him, and Knudsen's art class was the only subject he was passing. When Knudsen found out, he pulled Santana aside and said: "There's no room for anyone giving 50 per-cent. You should do 150 percent. Whatever you're doing or whatever you're trying to be. Whether you're a painter, a musician or a fireman." Those words struck deeply in Santana's spirit. From that day forward, the young guitarist focused all of his energy on his music. Since that time he has recorded at least 36 albums and received an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.