Great Leaders have very little in common. It can be said generally that they are so different, because they share the ability to adapt to the unique needs of the position that they inherit, and cultivate a team of exceptional talent toward exceptional performance.
While studying Great Leaders, three factions particularly interest me: leaders in business, schools, and and those that I have worked directly under in business and school.
Business leaders inspire me in their ability to clearly communicate a complex vision to their team, and then position their talent to best achieve that vision. The vision affects the means to that vision, so there is no one right way to get there. I can only say with a certainty that no vision can be achieved alone. The most successful businesses are not one-man operations, but rather a team of specific experts that work together toward the vision. Vision needs clarity. The management help the company thrive by continuing to interpret the vision- what it includes, and what it does not. It is very easy for a company without a strong leader to take the vision and move in many different directions. How much more can an organization accomplish when everyone is moving in the same direction!
Leading in schools today takes a certain measure of strength. Only a few schools are treated in our society with prestige. It is nearly a thankless job. The managers lead a frustrated team of teachers. Teachers in America are so often attempting to teach a populous unwilling to learn. The greatest teachers engage their students creatively and spark that hunger for learning. Some teachers find this unbearable and give up. It is a sad thing to go to work everyday with a rowdy bunch that do not value your lessons, or think they already know all they need to.
It was my childhood dream to become a teacher. My experience changed that dream, because I formed a jaded view toward the profession, an impression that continued to be reaffirmed in college, where the students showed up but they did not really care.
There are three, truly remarkable leaders that stand out in my memory. Mr. Vaca was my history teacher in eleventh grade. His teaching style was like a multilevel list. In between, he used a mix of personal stories, video, and vivid images to spruce up the lessons. He frequently connected history lessons to present day concerns that we could relate to. I learned a great deal from Mr. Vaca about organization, because he was the single most organized adult that I had ever met. It was these lessons in organized note-taking- which I took away because of the organized way that he delivered the notes- that stuck with me through the rest of my life. I used his style through the rest of my school days, and continue to use it as I research topics in my current profession. He also showed me how conviction can spread to others, even to those not necessarily interested at first. He showed me how people can be influenced simply because you are so passionate about a subject. Mr. Vaca was the most passionate history teacher that I ever had. He passed his passion to his students. He helped each student to discover parts of history to be curious and passionate about independently. Women might not find love of war facts, but might become painfully curious and engaged about scandals. Mr. Vaca left our school, but his picture hangs at the by the very front door- a testament and an honor that most students probably ignore. But his processes affected all of his students, and the teachers in his department that he taught his successful ways to.
Years later, I worked in a bookstore. I was powerfully passionate about this role. In this role, I was able to do my best work everyday. I was able to use my vast knowledge of books and media everyday. I was able to satisfy customers to that additional level, with commentary and recommendations. Unfortunately, I worked in a terrible company. That company has improved since I left, but back then, it was one of the worst retail businesses in America. Corporate management communicated unclear initiatives and much more frequently punished the improper execution of those initiatives than they praised the successful interpretation thereof. The stores were a mess. The store management were confused how to train and how to sell successfully. The retail book market as a whole was quickly dying. IN that time, I was blessed with one very good manager amidst a high turnover of bad ones. Despite the incompetence of that company, this great manager remains with the company. The initiatives from corporate were so unclear, that our great manager Brandy mostly ignored them. She was very clear about communicating specific tasks to the team from corporate and designating them to the people who could best perform them. Brandy really shined to her team though, because she was an extremely hard worker. If she asked you to do a task, you could bet that she gave herself twenty, and then pushed herself to do them. She was always very stressed, but she single-handedly filled the gap of labor that corporate would not let her fill. In her watch, all the customers were talked with and helped, the store was very clean, and issues were quickly dealt with. Even the laziest seasonal employees applied themselves on her shifts, because they admired her hard work so much. I learned from Brandy that a great leader can be one that not only delegates, but leads by example. She showed us the example of really hard work and we followed that becoming very productive team as a result.
The greatest leader that I have ever known was my grandmother- my father’s mother. She was a giver. She volunteered in countless causes. She cooked for hours and fed thousands in her lifetime. She made clothing. She organized our enormous family and kept things going when we got together. I am not sure how she accomplished all that she did. I asked her once how she did it, and she said that she had a talent to pay attention to everything and everyone. She was so often on the phone, and even when she was not there- she knew what was going on in the lives of all those that she cared about. It made her powerfully happy to see people overcome obstacles. So she made it her life’s work to help people overcome.
It was felt by thousands when she passed away. She left behind 15 children, along with over a hundred grand children and a quite a few great grandchildren. She left behind hundreds in her church, and hundreds in her mission that were touched by her works. Her giving led many to great prosperity and abundance.
The process of my learning is in its very early stages. In the weeks that follow, I am embarking in an in-depth study of great leaders in businesses, schools and in my community. So more blog posts to come on the topic!