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
“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
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.
Ain’t it a shame I didn’t tell my students that.
Sharon and Rowdy