Where have all the Leaders gone?

After a lot of bad news in March and April, I’m really thankful for all the good news in the last two months.  The chemotherapy is doing its job of shrinking my tumors, my side effects from chemo have been minimal…and the Last Train is chugging along quite nicely.  We are up to 1,963 “riders” on the Last Train and it continues to grow by the day.

The opposite of follower is leader…and while I don’t consider myself to be the “leader” of those following this blog…I am trying to set a good example and unlike Charles Barkley, I am also willing to be a role model.

I always try to be a positive person, but when it comes to leadership in our country, I feel we’re going in the wrong direction.  When I look at our government agencies, our schools, corporations, and families, I think leadership has gotten weaker in the last 25 years and for sure in the last 50 or 60 years.

But I also see a lot of positive leaders…positive role models…and I’d like to tell you about the two best leaders that I have worked under, Bob Gates and Bill Byrne.

Robert M. Gates became a household name as the Secretary of Defense under Presidents Bush and Obama.  Prior to that appointment, he was President of Texas A&M University.

While I didn’t work directly under Dr. Gates, I was around him enough and observed his actions to get a good picture of his leadership style.

The most memorable time I spent with Dr. Gates was the night before the Texas A&M-Missouri football game in Columbia.  Eight of us in the Athletic Department spent the evening with Dr. Gates and his wife Becky.  While having drinks in his hotel suite before dinner, Dr. Gates was telling White House stories from the past when he was Director of the CIA.  Being a small town kid from Nebraska, it was thrilling to hear about decisions that Dr. Gates was involved in that affected the history of our country.

Bob Gates is the most intelligent person I’ve ever been around.  His knowledge of history and world affairs is incredible and he possesses an incredible memory.  As a leader, he surrounded himself with other talented leaders and then he let those people do their jobs.  More than once, I heard Dr. Gates say at meetings when the discussion involved Athletics, “Bill, you’re the Athletic Director, what do you think we should do?”  And while Dr. Gates was not afraid to disagree, he almost always took Bill’s valued advice.

Dr. Gates also had the courage to make tough decisions.  He cared about the people who worked for him.  As Secretary of Defense, when his decisions led to the death of United States soldiers, he showed immense compassion for the families and took responsibility for his actions.

In working under Bill Byrne for 20 years, I saw many of the same attributes.  Compassion, caring, courage…never afraid to make the tough decisions…but always listening to the advice of those he had hired to help lead the Athletic Departments at Nebraska and Texas A&M.

I loved walking around the Athletic Department and campus with Bill.  He would say “hi” to almost everyone and never hesitated to stop and talk.  He knew the names of custodians, ticket takers, ushers…the lowest paid people on staff.  He let those folks know that he cared about them and appreciated the jobs that they were doing.  In Bill’s eyes, everyone was an important part of the team.

Bill was never afraid to hold people accountable to do their jobs, but he was also always quick to compliment, show his appreciation, and give credit to his employees after a job well done.

There are many things that comprise great leadership…but here are the attributes I think are most important:

  • Care about the people you are leading.  It is a big responsibility to have power and influence over another person’s life…the best leaders don’t become arrogant they are humbled by that responsibility.
  • Challenge those you lead to become better, but also encourage and compliment them along the way.
  • Have a vision.  If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.
  • Don’t be afraid to make tough decisions.  As a leader…and as a parent…you can’t always take the friendship route, you have to be willing to take a stand and make decisions based on your convictions.
  • Last but not least, lead by example.  Your words mean very little if your character does not reflect what you say.

Medical/Personal update:

I’ve always been a goal-oriented person and have loved making short-term and long-term plans/goals for my life.  But now with my future so much up in the air, I have had a hard time with any long-term planning.

As a result, I’m taking things more one-month at a time.  In order to stay active, I’ve been golfing more and even walked 18 holes twice this past week.  One of the rounds was at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island, the 4th ranked course in the world.  What a thrill it was to play there with three great friends from Texas.

On July 31st, I’ll play what many consider the best golf course in the world, Pine Valley.  The next day, it’s off to Grand Cayman for a week where Zach and I will check scuba diving off our “bucket list.”  Maria will stick with snorkeling and enjoying Pina Coladas on the beach.

In my all-time favorite movie, Shawshank Redemption, Morgan Freeman says, “Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.”  I choose living…and I love staying busy!

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