The mark of a leader

I’ll begin with a scenario. Imagine yourself leading a group of ten soldiers into combat. You are charged with setting the objective, securing the required tools to get the job done, and making sure all of your soldiers are equipped and ready to fight. Now, you have done all this. Your team is ready to fight. In the first few minutes of combat, you are wounded and unable to continue leading. What happens next? Did you put a plan into place in expectation of such an occurrence? Will your team continue the fight as you taught them or will they cut and run because you are suddenly out of the picture?

OK, so most of us will never lead men into an armed conflict. The same principle is true for any group you may have charge over however. What would happen to your team if you were out of the picture? I submit to you that, as a leader, you must make certain that your group knows what you want to accomplish and be able to function without you. Whether you resign, get sick, or otherwise remove yourself from direct interaction with your people, they need to know and fully understand the group goals and how they are to be accomplished. You MUST give them the freedom to act in your absence. To do that, they must know the requirements of the group and (really important here) they must know you have confidence in them to make and execute decisions in your absence, regardless of how that absence occurred.  Anything less than this is a failure of leadership.

I have seen enough groups with leadership that considers itself the only able decision maker. The people in the group do not know or have a vested interest in where the team is going. It functions only when leadership is there and making all the decisions. Then there is the leader that has done all he knows to do to establish the tempo and direction of the group. He has done a reasonably good job. Upon his departure, the group dynamic changes. They no longer function and move forward as leadership has taught them. People drop off the team or move in different directions. This too, is a failure of leadership. This leader has failed to prepare his team to function without him. He has not adequately prepared his team to move forward and continue to build on previous success regardless of his presence or lack thereof.

POINT: The real test of a leader is the ability to prepare his team to function, indeed, to excel, regardless of whether he is present or not.

The Field (pt.2)

Regular readers will remember an earlier discussion regarding a field in the southwest corner of Amarillo, Texas where yours truly grew up. It was in this field at the end of Hall Street that a dozen or so pre-puberty little boys re-fought World War II. You will want to read the earlier article on this site titled, “The Field” to know that story. This story involves the field as well but in a different role than that of an imaginary battlefield.

The one thing that could guarantee all activity on the field come to a screeching halt was an encounter with one of its full-time residents. The most common one was the jack rabbit. It is a genetic trait of all little boys to chase jack rabbits regardless of the universally known fact that no human could ever catch one, much less a little boy. To my eternal shame, I never caught one. I can also state unequivocally that I still can’t.

We boys had much more fun with one of the smaller and slower residents of the field. The horned toad was in great abundance there and they were much easier to catch. One had to be careful though! We had it in good faith from the older boys (the ones in the neighborhood who were past twelve or so) that if a horned toad could spit into your eyes, you would be blind forever. None of us had the nerve to test the validity of that statement. So, the safe and right place for a captured horned toad would be in one’s pocket. We just had to remember to get them out of said pocket before going home. A loose horned toad in the kitchen was never a good thing, particularly for Mom. I can also state with all the confidence of a Christian holding four aces, that they do not handle washing machines well either. I can finally pronounce that wandering horned toads in the kitchen are very bad for little boys. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Well, now there were a fair number of snakes in the field as well. To us, all snakes in the field were gigantic Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes (they grew to be monsters by the time we got home, and were fully capable of eating any of us at will). The reality is they were plain old Garter Snakes and an occasional Bull Snake. When we had a spring rain, we would get a number ten plastic jug (like what restaurants get mustard in), put it down in the drain at the edge of the field, and we’d fill that jug up with snakes and whatever else went by. Why we did I didn’t know then and I don’t know now. I imagine it was because we could. So there.

Sometimes after a rain, we would get really lucky and find a salamander. We called them mud puppies. They were nasty and I never did get the gumption up to pick one up. They were about 6-8” long, black with yellow stripes, and real slimy. You know, they would have been real good to chase girls with had I had the backbone to grab one.

I sure do miss that field.

The Bank Girls

I have used the same bank branch since moving here in 1992. It’s changed names once over the years and there have been several staff adjustments. I like the place and doubt I’ll ever see reason enough to move my few dollars anywhere else. Over the years, it has been a much more useful place than just a repository for my meager wages. To this day, the bank’s staff serves as the victims to test my continually expanding litany of bad jokes and one-liners.

How and when it all started is vague in my memory. Sometimes, I would walk in to an empty lobby and tell the entire staff I’ll come back when they’re less busy. Other times I might just engage in some good-natured banter with the teller. Over time, they began to expect a joke or a one-liner. I have, to date, always been able to comply with something funny and they graciously laughed at most of them. That is, until last Tuesday.

This particular Tuesday I came by and most everybody stopped what they were doing and looked at me. Even the security guard wandered over in anticipation of a joke or two. The teller (a relatively new addition to the bank’s staff) asked for the joke of the day. I had an inner feeling that if I did not come up with the requisite humorous line(s), I might not get any of my money. Realizing that my career (?) in stand-up hinged on this one performance; I dug deep for something funny.

Nothing.

Staring off into space, I searched the nether regions of my mind. I found and told a story about the Lone Ranger. Only one teller was old enough to remember the Lone Ranger. I put that one back and found another. It was so forgettable that I can’t remember it now. I kept looking through my dusty mental files in search of something to restore my reputation among the “bank girls.” By now I was sweating and envisioning my bank accounts being emptied and divided among the girls as punishment for my lack of preparation. One of them is a blond and I knew she would be quick to laugh.  Off I run to the “blond joke” file. Here’s what I came up with:

A blond walked into a beauty salon for a haircut. She had a set of headphones on. The beautician told her she would have to take them off so she could cut her hair. ABSOLUTELY NOT!! The blond said and stomped out of the salon. She came back a couple of weeks later still wearing her headphones and still needing a haircut. The hairdresser was momentarily away from her post so the blond just sat down at her work station and waited. The beautician was gone quite awhile and the blond fell asleep. Upon her return, the hairdresser decided not to wake her so she eased the headphones off the blond’s ears. Wham! The blond  fell off the chair and onto the floor, graveyard dead. The police were called and the investigator asked how it happened. “She had fallen asleep so I took her headphones off. Soon as I did that, she fell over dead,” said the now distraught beautician. Thinking this a little stranger than even he was used to, the investigator picked up the headphones. Noticing it was still running, he put the ear piece in his ear. Know what was on the recorder?

“Breathe in…breathe out, breathe in…breathe out.”

Phew! That one worked. The bank was filled with laughter and a few groans. My reputation had been salvaged. The only problem now is I have to go back….I’ll need another joke. And another. It is an endless task to keep the “bank girls” entertained.

There’s no justice in the world you know. I have to keep my wife, daughter, granddaughter, the payroll clerk at my job (also a woman) and now the “bank girls” happy. No wonder I’m bald.

POSTSCRIPT: I have just come from the bank. Several of the bank girls had read this and were very happy to see me. I told another blond joke. I guess it worked. It is a satisfying feeling to know I have made the bank girls happy. Maybe they might add a zero or two to my account balance. Probably not.

The Essential Leader I

(NOTE: On occasion I will delve into a serious subject and that is the case this week. I’ll do this usually when something has happened  to bring a particular issue to the forefront. Enjoy your day!)

Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow me”. Thus has Christ defined the essential ingredient of a leader. Regardless of what role a leader is in, he must be able to deny his own wants and desires to follow a higher calling. I believe that leading people is a gift and a responsibility.

It is a gift because, despite what some would say, not all of us are called to be leaders. Not all of us are intended to take such a responsibility. It is a gift and a privilege from God Himself to be able to take care of people and set a standard that others would want to follow. It is not an easy job and certainly not a job for anybody with an inflated view of himself. One must be able and willing to seek the needs of those around him ahead of his own. The personal desires of a leader must never, ever, take precedence over the group he leads. To do otherwise is a failure to lead.

It is a responsibility because, as the late President Truman said, “the buck stops here.” It is, in the final analysis, the leader’s actions and attitudes that result in failure or success. I submit to you, though, that the real responsibility lies with how leadership takes care of the people under his charge. It matters not whether he is leading a squad of soldiers into combat or a committee of volunteers running a networking event. He must set the standard for all to follow and he must make sure the people under his charge are taken care of and find value in what they are doing. When those two ingredients are met, the group goals will almost certainly be achieved.

In the course of my almost 55 years, I have had opportunity to lead soldiers, blue collar crews, over-the-road drivers, and now a group of people charged to manage a networking event. Whether the gift of leadership rests with me or not, I cannot say, and I surely would not be so arrogant to state that I have all the answers on the subject. Leadership for me creates far more questions than answers. There is the constant question of whether I am allowing my own desires to get in the way of the goals of the group. Then there is the matter of ensuring the group knows where  they need to go and how  to get there. In all of this each individual must understand their role in the group and find value in it. The term servant-leader is useful here. A leader serves those around him and, as a result, is able to bring them with him to an ultimate goal.

A warning sign is when groups become defined by the leader. That happens in churches a lot and even more in political organizations. It can NEVER be about the leadership!!! It has to be about service to one another. Yes, somebody has to be in charge, setting the standard and leading the way. A leader is a leader because he is able to do that but the group cannot be successful when it is defined by its leader. It will eventually become ego driven and centered on the leader instead of where the group needs to go.

Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”