Real Life Leadership

Leadership is everywhere.  Just the other day my wife was at the park and recounted to me this story:

“At the park a few days ago, the universe set before my eyes a succinct and vivid summary of two styles of leadership with their typical results.

An ROTC group had assembled to run laps. As they were stretching, the leaders got everyone pepped by shouting such soul-stirring mantras as “no pain, no gain,” or “pain is weakness leaving the body.” After a few minutes of this, the relatively quiet park was immersed in the sound of charging, panting warriors eager to hurt their way from weakness to strength, bring glory to their team, and achieve their personal best.

Soon one such warrior fell back. The pain was too much, the challenge too hard, and the weakness too stubborn to leave the body. He paused to catch his breath, and took the laps at a more comfortable walk.

The leaders of the pack noticed, and barked “encouragement” at him as they lapped him.

“You’re hurting your team!”

“Come on! Keep running!”

“Find pleasure in the pain!”

The poor warrior would pick up his pace like an exhausted mule that had just been whipped. He really wanted to succeed. He really wanted to be running! But each burst of effort would last only a moment before his pace slowed again. Each time a leader passed, he would shout another platitude behind him with the same effect.

It was truly a ridiculous sight. I wanted to shout my own encouragement to him; “Pick up the pace so you can punch those jerks in the face! You can do it!”

Moments before I could chime in, a team member who had completed his laps noticed the situation, ran back to his colleague, and finished the race with him. The two of them trotted together, far behind the others but at a steady, non-walking pace. I could not hear the words they spoke, or if they spoke any at all, but for the first time all morning the poor straggler completed a lap without stopping. And then he ran another, and another, until at last the two of them joined the group with dignity and a tired air of triumph.”

When do leaders get results?  When they serve.  When they get on the level of their people, meet them where they are, and walk alongside them, support them, to the goal.

I wish I could have been there.  This group couldn’t have planned a performance on leadership any better.

*photo courtesy of

One thought on “Real Life Leadership

  1. Exactly so. Trust and loyalty grow when leaders show that they serve.

    The “T” in ROTC stands for Training. It was good to see that one of the cadets was starting to see that actions trump words, and that teamwork means it isn’t over until everyone is across the line; more will come to understand it in time.

    Thanks for the post.

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