This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post on March 15, 2017.
I recently published my first book titled Discerning God’s Purpose: A Father’s Journey from Tragedy to Triumph. Right after it was published, I scheduled some book signings in order to promote the book. At one particular signing, a woman came up to me and asked that I autograph her book. While I was signing the book, she asked me what my motivation was in writing the book. I replied that I hoped my words would inspire those who read it. She said, “no I mean what motivated you to write the book in the first place.” I thought for a few seconds and then pointed in the direction of my oldest daughter and said, “My inspiration came from her.”
Last summer, I decided to resign from my job as a senior manager with the Federal Government. I had a successful career and was making great money but I knew that I wasn’t fulfilling my purpose. When I came home, I didn’t really have some concrete plan of what I wanted to do next so I turned to one of my favorite hobbies – writing.
I started by writing about my purpose on my own blog and then one thing led to another and soon I was offered the opportunity to contribute on parenting and leadership topics to the Huffington Post. Unbeknownst to me, my oldest daughter (Julia) was reading my posts and began taking my advice to heart.
Julia was born a very prematurely (24 weeks gestation). As a result of her premature birth, she is deaf and has cerebral palsy. In spite of these challenges, Julia always tries her best to accomplish her goals. She always focuses on what she can do and not what she can’t. With that in mind, last summer, we enrolled Julia in a summer camp for special needs kids here in Austin called Camp in Motion. We found out about the camp through Julia’s occupational therapist who was participating and wanted Julia to come. We thought that it would be a great way for our daughter to get some extra therapy in a fun environment so we signed her up for two one-week sessions. On the last day of the first week of camp, when I came to pick her up, the head counselor asked to speak with me. She told me how Julia had helped the camp staff with another camper who was having some problems at camp. The counselors were so impressed with Julia’s initiative that they wanted her to be a camp “buddy” (a teenage counselor assistant) for the following week. Obviously, I had no issues with that but, I told her that the final decision was up to Julia. At the end of the conversation, the head counselor said, “It looks like you have a budding leader on your hands.”
On the way home, I asked Julia about the camper in question and why she decided to help. She said, “I only did what you taught me.” What was it that, I said? She said “I followed the golden rule. Treat others how I wanted to be treated. If I was having a problem, I would want someone to help me.” I must admit that I didn’t invent the golden rule. It is a lesson that comes straight out of the Bible. Matthew 7:12 (ESV) says, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” With this particular camper, she was in a unique position to help so that is what she did. In that one instance, she showed me that she understood the true meaning of leadership.
Not too long ago, I saw a Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) talk by Bob Davids centered around leadership without ego. He shared a story about how during World War Two, Gen. Eisenhower held a meeting with some of his top generals and brought out a chain and stacked it on a table. He then asked the generals which way the chain would go if he pushed it. After receiving a number of different answers, but the correct answer was that nobody really knows with any degree of certainty where the chain would go. Next, he would pick the chain up by the end and then ask where the chain would go if they pulled it. The answer was that it would follow him wherever he went. The moral of the story is that if you push people, you don’t know where they will go but if you get down and lead people, they will go wherever you want them to go.
He further illustrated his point by telling a story about a company that he built in China. During the construction of a factory in China, he came upon a group of workers who were down in a trench and were preparing to install a sewer pipe. He had enough of a technical and construction background to know that they were about to make a huge error in installing the pipe. At the time, he couldn’t speak Chinese so he couldn’t tell them how to fix their mistake. He decided to take off his shoes, jump into the trench, and showed them how to install a section of the pipe correctly. After showing them a few times with a few more sections of the pipe, he motioned for them to show that they understood by installing the next section of the pipe, which they did correctly. Soon word about the story spread about how he, as the owner of the company, actually got into the trench with his employees to lead them through a task that many in his position would consider being beneath them. It was a simple act but to his employees, it demonstrated real leadership.
The experience with my daughter inspired me to write the book. If I could inspire Julia to be an effective leader, then maybe I could do the same for others. By sharing my leadership lessons, along with the stories behind them, my hope is that anyone can see that there is a leader in all of us.