Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson  



      What is that?  Leadership…what does that mean?  At one time, I knew.
I knew all about it.  But like Dylan said in a song once, “I was so much older then.”
     Years ago – in the eighties - I taught in a graduate engineering program conducted jointly by the Department of Defense and Texas A&M University.  One of my subjects was Leadership, and I thought I did a good job.  My lectures included such topics as inventory, profit and loss, delegation, planning, organizing, decision-making, and more.  I thought my words, lesson plans, and tests had value.  It comes to me now that I should send all those students their money back.  I never taught them anything about Leadership at all.
     Fast forward with me twenty-five years.  At a recent conference this year, instead of “telling” the participants about Leadership, I asked them to tell me about it - to share an experience when a “leader” came into their lives.  For fun, I offered ten bucks to anyone who would share their story about when someone made them better – when someone made them more.  The first hand that went up belonged to young man sitting on the front row.  He was about thirty or so – a nice looking fellow with the body of an athlete.
     “When I was seventeen,” he began, “I went to Yellowstone to work for the summer.  The boss I was assigned to didn’t like me from the first moment he saw me.  I didn’t know why, but I just knew…this fellow didn’t like me at all.”
     Sure enough, the young man’s intuition proved correct.  The boss yelled at him on the first day, cursed him on the second, wrote him up twice on the third, and reported him to the park rangers three times by the end of the first week.
     “I spent a miserable weekend full of dread,” he said.  “I arrived early at the work site that following Monday morning, knowing I would be fired, but to my surprise, there was someone else already there.  An old cowboy stood waiting…and he was waiting on me.  He said, ‘You’ll be with me from now on.’ ” And the young man telling the story paused.  We knew he was fighting emotion.
     “We spent the rest of the summer in that beautiful place,” he said.  “The old fellow didn’t say much.  When he told me to do something, he might say I did okay, and if I didn’t, he would show me how to fix my mistake.  I was just a kid, but he didn’t treat me like one.  He asked me where I was from and why I was there.  He would point out an eagle or an elk on occasion that I would have never seen unless he made me aware of their presence.  At the end of each day, he would say, ‘See you tomorrow, son.’  And he called me by my name.”  The young fellow paused again.
     “Over the course of that summer, I changed from a boy to a man.  I began to believe in myself, and that old fellow had something to do with all that.  On the day I left, he came to say good-bye.  He told me I would do well in life, and that I had some sense, and that he wished the best for me.  Now all these years later,” he continued, “I still think about him sometimes.  I find myself being so grateful to him.  I would like to give him something in return.  I wish I could find him and give him my thanks, my loyalty, my gratitude, and my …” He stopped again.
     “I can’t believe I’m going to say this in front of people I don’t even know, but I wish I could send him my love…and if I heard of his passing, I would try to get to him before they put him in the ground.”  Then he said, “And that’s my story about when a “Leader” came in my life - when someone made me better - when someone made me more.  That’s what Leadership is…when people do that to us.” 
And he sat down.
     He’s right.
     Ain’t it a shame I didn’t tell my students that.

                                                                                   --Michael Johnson




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