Looking at leaders
I have been told that the United States Army studied the characteristics that define one as a leader. The conclusion was simply that a leader is the person who others will follow.
I have met a lot of great leaders in my day. They seem to come in all sizes and shapes with different manners and talents. I, too, have pondered how to define a leader and have come to the conclusion that they are people who have tried to develop themselves into the best they could be given the situations in which they find themselves. They were confident and prepared and, when the need arose to serve, they stood up and asked what they could do.
I have been thinking lately of a woman named Murrieta Cookman whom I once described extensively in this column. She was a dynamo force I met in Soweto, South Africa, about 10 years ago. She lived in an unofficial settlement, or what we might call a ‘squatter’s shanty town.’ Her goal was to improve the housing of the 300 families who lived in conditions of poverty around her. I recalled that when I asked her why she still lived in a home with mud walls and a loose tin roof, she responded that she would move into the last house that was built. I knew then that I was standing in the presence of a true servant leader.
I wonder what Murrieta Cookman is doing today? Is she still stopping fights in her settlement, finding clothes for those in need and trying to build solid homes to replace the shacks? Does she now live in a home with electricity, a bathroom and a good roof? One thing I know for sure is she is still trying to organize people to improve the conditions in which they find themselves.
Recently, I attended a party in honor of two folks who had been widowed several years ago and were now marrying. They have both been leaders and have made a difference in Indianapolis. He is now retired, she is getting older, they are again part of a marriage and their roles are changing greatly. The guests were all recognizable community leaders and interesting folks with whom to talk. As I looked around the room, I spied past mayors, judges, doctors, service providers and businessmen and women. When I asked what they each were doing these days, I heard descriptions of all kinds of activities. The liveliness of the event told me that most of these ‘past leaders’ were still getting people to follow them. They were now leading as volunteers in not-for-profit organizations, providing care for ailing family members, directing small businesses, etc.
Those of you who are reading this article are all leaders, I suspect. Through the years, you have seen changes in your personal and private lives and you have been called to lead in a variety of ways. We will always need leaders: those who can direct three kids playing in a park as well as those who can organize 3,000 citizens in a fundraising drive. It takes all of us to make a thriving community. It doesn’t take a title to be able to provide leadership.
In Harrison County, we have a good mix of solid traditions from the past and challenges of a changing future. I believe we are enriched when we understand the history of the people and events that brought us to our current condition. But we don’t want fear or lethargy to keep us stuck in an outdated lifestyle either. We want to keep up with the transformations of the world. Let’s analyze where we are today as individuals and as a community. Only after this appraisal will we know what we want to keep and what we want to change as we plan for tomorrow. It is easy to just drift with the current, but leaders don’t do that. As a county, we need to ask what we want our part of the world to be like. Questions like: Do we want to be mainly a commuter community? Do we want to seek more tourist business? Do we want to be a small town with a broad economic base of activities and people? What kind of a mix do we want to create out of our opportunities?
Once we figure out what we want life to be like in our county in the future, we need to plan how we make that vision a reality. I know that everyone ‘ yes, everyone ‘ is busy. We are swamped with workloads, overwhelmed with technology and plagued by roadblocks we see in front of us, but our time to act is now.
You might remember this quote by the successful coach, Brian Tracy: ‘Leaders think and talk about the solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems.’ For myself, I find it exhilarating to think and talk about the possibilities from which the solutions will come. And, folks, the possibilities in this day and age for Harrison County to flourish have never been better.