“What Leadership Should Be All About”
2019: Leading from the Front! Part 1
“Coach Gary” says: Several years ago, there was a sentiment in our country, and even in the administration of the time, that their strategy was one of ‘leading from behind’. This thinking seemed to be fine with many people; not so with others. A philosophical discussion, should we say? It’s time to test the opposite approach, hence the theme of this year’s Full Contact Project Management column: Leading from the Front!
There’s an old saying—politically incorrect these days, I’m sure—that the problem with being a pioneer is that they are the ones who “take the most arrows!” So…maybe I need to update the old saying? For 2019, let’s try: Leaders are the ones who…
- Take the most flack
- Catch the most heat
- Hear the most criticism
- Become the target
You get the idea!
Here’s a lame, but true, analogy. Ever watch the TV show, Survivor? After watching this for some 30 seasons (yes, I confess!) I realize this truism: with 90+% accuracy, you can bet that the person on Day 1 who tries to help the most by organizing the rest of the group to build a shelter will NOT make it to the end of the show but will get voted off by jealous tribe members. Astonishing, especially when you consider that the crime of the leader was pushing others to build a shelter which will keep the rain off the entire tribe and help them all to survive.
(Hey…wait a minute. If you run a construction company or manage projects, aren’t you kind of in that same danger? Yikes…think about that one!)
“But…’Coach Gary’…” I hear you saying out there… “are you telling us to just go along to get along?” My answer: Stay tuned, grasshopper, and all will be revealed!
Recent events have gotten me to puzzle over this dilemma…this crisis of leadership. Whether it be additional restrictions on a jobsite, or the cries of outrage from mobs of people (yes, I said ‘mobs’, so sue me!) my take is that a crisis of leadership can exist only when there is a lack of leaders. Let me give you some examples of things I’ve witnessed recently…examples of leadership that give me so much hope for the coming year. And the first two are women.
Meet ‘Coach Lorrie’, who leads a team of 9 and 10-year-old girls softball players in Carlsbad, CA. My granddaughter Emma plays on the team, so I’ve had quite a few chances to witness the leadership of this coach, up close and personal. Coach Lorrie has played the game at a high level in college, so knows the skillset. She teaches well. But the skill of how to swing a bat or catch a ball is not what caught my attention.
Right after each game ends, “Coach” gathers her team (and their families) around her, and she does something exceptional: she tells each girl, one at a time, something special about how that girl played. She tells each player, in front of her teammates and all the families, so it can’t be a made-up comment. It has to be real. But Coach Lorrie has paid enough attention during the game her comments are heartfelt and real.
She finds something special, even for the non-athletes. We once heard her say this to a girl who did not catch a ball, which came right at her: “Oh, my gosh! I was so proud of you, how you hung in there, and didn’t even cry when that ball hit you!” And the girl, who was singled out sat there with her teammates and just beamed!
You see, Coach Lorrie didn’t call her out and embarrass her, but actually found something of value. Because of this, each girl trusts her coach to lead, realizing at a very young age, that Lorrie was more than a coach in name only.
The second example of a leader has no name, is anonymous…and astonishing to me. I think of her as the “Unknown Samaritan,” and you’ll see why in a moment.
I was driving along on a busy highway, when the traffic began slowing, for some reason. I was in the right-hand lane and could finally see that the reason causing the slowdown occurring in the left-turn lane and fast lane. As I crept up, I saw this Unknown Samaritan in action. She had stopped her car, door wide open, just short of a crosswalk, was facing the oncoming traffic, holding up both of her hands. Can you picture this in your minds?
At first, I thought maybe she might have been a little on the crazy side, you know? Silly me, because I then saw what was really happening: an old woman using a walker was attempting to cross the highway, apparently oblivious to the traffic. The Samaritan was doing her best to hold back the oncoming traffic so that they would not inadvertently run over the woman with the walker. And stop…they did!
It took my breath away. I was not close enough to help, so all I could do was pray. It was decisive leadership on the Samaritan’s part, and looked to me like it might have saved a life—possibly at the risk of her own.
It just hit me that I should at least give her a nickname: U.S., for Unknown Samaritan, but also because what she did should also be a picture of “us,” and how we treat and care for others…on the jobsite, in the office, or on the highway.
Being able to personally witness the actions and character of these two was very sobering. It is what leadership is truly all about. But I have one more to leave you with, and this just happened two weeks ago as I write this, and only about a hundred miles from my home. Sheriff Sgt. Ron Helus was the first law enforcement responder to reach the scene of an active shooter, at what would become a mass murder.
After being dispatched to the scene, he phoned his wife and talked to her while he headed there. Then he said, “I gotta go handle a call. I love you. I’ll talk to you later.” Unfortunately, Sgt. Ron was never able to make that call, but his actions saved others.
I wanted to share these with you as we begin this new year. You see the same sort of great people out where you live, similar examples. It’s time to consider the value of making a difference, of being a real leader, taking risk when it’s called for, involving yourself in the lives of people when appropriate. Time to stop waiting for somebody else—or the government—or our industry associations—or anyone in a paid staff position to make things happen.
Coach Gary says: The mantle of leadership is on you, so lead from the front!