What makes a good leader? And who decides?
Vince Lombardi said, “Leaders aren’t born they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.” Jimmy Johnson, former Dallas Cowboys coach, says, “(Military) leaders aren’t made. They are born. To be a good leader, you have to have something in your character to cause people to follow you.” Two opposing viewpoints. So who’s right?
In my opinion, they both are. Remem-ber when you grew up, there was always a bad boy who led the other kids into mischief. Growing up in Chicago, I knew plenty of those guys, but the one who stood out was Joe Burkhardt.
Joe was tall and lanky, with a face only a mother could love. He wasn’t very smart, at least not academically. But he had a mesmerizing gaze that could hypnotize kids into doing his nasty bidding. Joe wouldn’t just fill the boy’s bathroom sink with paper towels and run the water until it overflowed onto the floor. He would get help and fill them all, then talk the girls into doing the same thing in their bathroom.
The best thing that ever happened to Joe was when his parents made him join the Boy Scouts. He didn’t fit into the Scouts very well. According to the Boy Scout Law, a scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. The scoutmaster was stymied by Joe’s inability to be obedient. Because of his “troublemaking,” he was sent to the patrol that had all the bad apples. Whenever we had a weekend campout, that was the patrol that would raid other campgrounds, cut the tent’s guy lines, tip over the water barrels and all the other nefarious deeds that tarnished the reputation of our troop.
JB’s greatest skill (aside from inciting mischief) was his mastery of fire. You’ve heard of Boy Scouts starting a fire with two sticks? Joe would bet people he could start a blaze with one. And he could, albeit he would break the stick in half, remove a shoelace, make a bow with the other half and before you knew it, you were roasting s’mores. I didn’t say he wasn’t clever.
Without guidance, Joe may have become an arsonist. The thing is, it took a summer camp counselor to see that he had those other eleven character traits, but they were overshadowed because he wasn’t obedient. And as anyone growing up in the ‘50s knows, one must be obedient.
The camp counselor was a master at turning “bad boys” into productive leaders. The elegance of his approach was its simplicity: He asked Joe to be in charge of the fire-starting competition held during summer camp.
The winner would be the first team to burn a string suspended about three feet above the ground. Joe’s leadership qualities engulfed the challenge. He broke his team into groups. Some of us collected tinder, others kindling, the rest found dead and dry branches. Burkhardt carefully assembled it all into a pyre and started his shoestring magic.
Wow! Before the other groups had even collected their material, our flames were consuming the string like teenage boys wolfing down pizza.
Joe’s strengths were harnessed into a positive life-changing force. When summer camp ended, our scoutmaster had already received a note from the camp counselor recommending Joe be made the troop’s senior patrol leader. To his credit, the scoutmaster gave him the opportunity and Joe’s true leadership radiated.
What does this have to do with Alan Carson? I don’t even know if Alan was a Boy Scout. But years ago, when asked how to deal with an ASHI member who constantly criticizes everything and is usually in disagreement with an issue, our 1994 ASHI President said, “Put him in charge of the project. If it succeeds, it will be his achievement. If it doesn’t, he’ll know why. Either way, he’ll be part of the solution instead of the problem.”
A good leader recognizes someone’s strengths, even negative ones, and turns them into a positive force. Thanks for the great advice, Alan.
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