What is a Leader?

What is a leader? A while back, I wrote about the difference between a leader and a manager. I still firmly believe that there is a difference between the two. I did not, however, actually get into the nuts and bolts of what a leader really is.  First let me share with you a couple of actual definitions:

Dictionary.com (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/leader) defines a leader with the following:

  1. a person or thing that leads.
  2. a guiding or directing head, as of an army, movement, or political group.
  3. Music: a conductor or director, as of an orchestra, band, or chorus.

Merriam Webster (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/leader) breaks it down a little bit differently, but still has the same basic definition in regards to the human aspect: [Note: my quote below is actually definition #2 from Merriam-Webster.com]

Definition #2: a person who leads: as

  1. guide, conductor
  2. (1) : a person who directs a military force or unit (2) : a person who has commanding authority or influence
  3. (1) : the principal officer of a British political party (2) : a party member chosen to manage party activities in a legislative body (3) : such a party member presiding over the whole legislative body when the party constitutes a majority
  4. d (1)  conductor c (2) : a first or principal performer of a group

One definition that caught my eye when starting this entry was a music conductor as in an orchestra, band, or chorus. This is partly because I have always been around music, and also because I love the analogy that comes in to focus.

Have you ever seen a conductor’s score? What an amazingly complicated document. Each page contains the scores for every part played by every instrument. Even the simplest of musical pieces can get complicated very quickly. It is the role of the conductor to ensure that everyone plays their part at the appropriate time, and to make sure everyone is paying attention to the various marks on the page.

It is beautiful to watch a good conductor at work. Such grace. Such concentration. All of the various pieces come together all at once to turn dots on a page into a musical masterpiece. All eyes are on him, trusting him to lead them the right direction. Any false moves, and embarrassment can quickly ensue, ruining the musicality altogether. The key here is trust. Not only are the musicians trusting the conductor, but the audience is trusting him or her as well.

Business leaders must know enough about what they are doing to be trustworthy. In my current business, I have to know what goes into a repair and maintenance manual. My team looks to me to make good decisions which will allow them the best opportunity to succeed. It is my job to make sure my team has the tools to do their job. That is the role of a leader. A leader is a person who inspires people to achieve great heights despite their own limitations. A leader inspires people to want to achieve more and more every time. A leader is a motivator that people look up to. A leader is someone who people come to for direction and feedback. A leader has many followers, people who want to stay, people who want to succeed.

One final note: A good leader puts his or her followers ahead of himself or herself. I don’t believe there is any room in this world for a selfish leader. A selfish leader steps on the toes of those below him in order to make himself look good. What they don’t understand is that by pushing the team down, they are not really leading or motivating. The selfish leader puts undue stress on a team and fails to give credit where credit is due. A selfish leader misses out on the rewards of seeing everyone succeed. This is the most valuable part. A leader should be like a proud parent, wanting to see the accomplishments of their children grow and grow and grow. A good leader should always be training the next generation.

As always, I appreciate you reading this post. I also covet your comments as they help me grow and give me opportunities to make my blog posts even better.


April 19th: I will never forget

April 19th, 1995, I was sitting in a college class in Oklahoma City when the building seemed to shake. We barely noticed it and most of us assumed that it was caused by something going on in the construction area just outside. What I would later find out about that rumble would change my life forever.

At 9:02AM a bomb exploded in downtown Oklahoma City. At first, the cause was was unknown. Some thought it was a ruptured gas line. It turned out to be the worst terrorist attack on American soil which has since been eclipsed by September 11th. It still is the worst domestic attack.

At the time, I volunteered with a local emergency management group. Our main function was weather spotting, but we were also trained in traffic control and disaster assistance. I left my class early to see if there was anything I could do to help, knowing my team would be called for assistance.

I arrived just before noon at the bombing site. What I would see would affect me in ways I didnt’ think possible. As I wandered around the site waiting for orders, I found myself standing on a sidewalk next to where the YMCA playground once was, looking at a deformed tree surrounded by burning cars. I remember vividly looking at the tree with its new shape as decided by the blast and finding hope. I remember specifically thinking that this tree is a survivor.

The devistation was unbelievable:

  • 168 lives lost – 19 were children under 6
  • Almost 700 people injured
  • Over 300 buldings damaged or destroyed
  • Countless lives affected including my own

I was there for the first two days, making myself available for anything that was needed. It was so amazing to see the countless volunteers giving of their time selflessly. Oklahoma City came together to show the world that our will cannot be broken. The conspirators who performed that terrorist act may have broken our backs, but they did not break our spirits. In fact, they made us stronger.

Since then, I have only been able to go back to the site twice. Once after the memorial was first opened and once after the museum was opened. It is an emotional place for so many. It is so quiet, even in the middle of a busy downtown. I have driven by it many times and get the same feeling every time. I want to go back to see again, to pray, to remember, and to hope.

Here is a link to the official Oklahoma City National Memorial: http://www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org/ 

To all the victims, families, and volunteers of the Oklahoma City bombing, I will never forget you or your suport.

Keeping a Positive Attitude

Some of you that know me know that I have just undergone a fairly serious surgery to repair two ruptured disks in my lower neck. For almost 13 years now, I have dealt with severe pain of one type or another on the rite side of my neck or even upper back, shoulder-blades, and shoulders. On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being barely no pain and 10 being the most excruciating pain experienced, my levels were sitting at a consistent 8+. I dealt with it for yeas, hardly able to move my head and having doctors tell me that I’m simply “deconditioned” or out of shape. Grr, really? I just had an MRI if my back and skull, and all you can say is I need to take a walk? Wow, I wonder how much that cost me. So you can see a real internal battle brewing in my head. I am a positive person! Well, at least I try to be. I don’t like to dwell on the negative aspects of events. It is kind of like getting your heart broken over and over and over again. I’m not sure anyone would think that is fun.

SO? What do I do?

Well, honestly, that part is easy. There are several avenues that can be taken here, and sometimes you can or even have to take more than one.

  1. Deal with it! Sound harsh? Well, it is. It is also extremely hard to do. Just “dealing with it” does not mean you are prepared to deal with it and this can end badly.
  2. Get some help and deal with it! This is the preferable approach to the first item. Find someone who’s been there or has the expertise to help you. In my case, a neurosurgeon.
  3. Learn from it. How did you get here in the first place? How can you avoid this situation again? Look back on it, what were the tell tale signs that this was going to happen.
  4. Seek the bright side of the bad situation. This particular point gets a lot of people. I just broke my leg in a wreck where my car was totalled, my lunch was ruined, and my cell phone went flying out of the window. Seems bad, right? Well, it is, but let’s analyze a little closer.
  • Had a car wreck: This is one of the single most disruptive items that can happen in a day. It can and will disrupt your life for quite some time. You’ve had a learning process here though. Now you’re looking at more safety features on the next car. Perhaps you’ve been wanting a different car with a different color, or added sunroof or DVD Player for the kids. Hello silver lining, now you have an opportunity to look for all of these things in the replacement car, which if done right, can even cost you less than you were paying before
  • You just broke your leg. Well, your friends will come around more often to see if they can help you. If you are anything like me, you’re always the giver and rarely get treated the other direction. Not only that, but you might get some sympathy from another new girl that thinks your cute and wants to use that as an ice breaker. Heck, if nothing else, just remember that the broken bone will now be twice as strong as it was before making it hard to break again.
  • Lost your cell phone? Well, let the insurance company buy you another one – brand new 🙂

In the end, it all boils down to how you react to the situation you are given. I spent 10 years angry with the drs telling me there was nothing wrong with me. After I realize how silly this really is, I finally got the medical help I needed and had a diagnosis in a few days. Then we setup a plan of action and the executed the plan, with almost perfect precision. I could have been pain free 11 years ago if I had stopped being mad and started being  results oriented. Now, I am on the way to a complete recovery and no longer have the pain level 8s that were plaguing me daily. Instead, I have a level 3 in areas that are new and the old areas are pain free. PAIN FREE!

I still need to take a walk though, and I so. Anywhere from 2-5 miles almost every day. That makes a difference too.

So, my friends, don’t get mad. Don’t waller in your own self pitty. Nobody wants to hear it, and neither do you. Keep your chin up, look for the silver lining. Let the other stuff just roll off your back like water on a duck!