Management Classics: Self-Evident Leadership

Jim Blaine’s lessons from the front-line of roller coaster riding.

This article is about leadership, but it’ll take you a little while to figure out why. Leadership is often that way. Last impressions are usually more accurate than first impressions; and appearances, unfortunately, can frequently be deceiving. If you make it to the end of this article, you’ll come away with a surefire spot the leader methodology, a new paradigm for you MBA types.

I was taking a mid-week road trip to Kings Dominion with a small herd of high-decibel youngsters, mostly mine. For the uninformed, Kings Dominion is an amusement park one exit north of Richmond, VA. Roller coasters are the main attraction, but other big draws include the karaoke show and people watching. The karaoke show features crowd volunteers, and the show’s emcee promises it requires no talent to participate. The absolute truth of that statement usually becomes obvious quickly. For good old-fashioned people watching, there is always an extremely wide variety of exotic folks and usually there is an exotic variety of extremely wide folks, too. But much like risk-based lending, the rabble can be divided into two distinct groups the have and the have-nots. In this case, that division is between those who have enough clothes on and those who have not.

But my favorite thrill; other than the coasters is the Scrambler. For those of you who haven’t been around much, so to speak, the Scrambler is 12 whirling cars on three separate pods that sling you toward, and spare you from, oblivion at ever-increasing speeds. The Scrambler is the ultimate smile machine. The toughest hombre, the dourest Puritan, even the most jaded CPA can’t resist a broad grin when this mechanical marvel spins into action. As the velocity rises, each rider’s public mask weakens and then falls away. And for a few brief moments, you can gaze directly into the hidden child heart of another person’s soul. On the Scrambler, raw happiness that which is best in each of us is spun to the surface, revealing that we’re all human and, at heart, very much akin that’s something worth learning before it’s too late and your ride is over.

But I’m talking about leadership, and that’s where the roller coasters come in. Kings Dominion’s roller coasters have names like The Rebel Yell, The Anaconda, The Hurler, The Grizzly, Shockwave, and The Avalanche. You can ride them forward, backward, over, under, inside, outside, up, down, sitting, standing, or my recommendation, kneeling and praying! Riding a roller coaster evokes many of the same emotions as running a credit union, rolling out a new marketing campaign, or leading a data processing conversion: Shucks, it can’t be that bad This is going to be fun Whose idea was this? At least it can’t get any worse If I ever get out of this, I promise .You get the idea.

This time around there was an unfortunate accident on one ride. The to-and-fro and up-and-down was just too much for one young’un, who unswallowed his lunch while sitting in his mother’s lap. When the ride ended, it wasn’t difficult to tell from Mom’s face and clothes that this unexpected thrill was just about too much. (As opposed to the Scrambler, this is one of those soul-searching moments when it’s only polite to look away!)

The roller coaster quickly emptied, and the lined-up throng watched and waited for the now what with much anticipation. On this occasion, the service team seemed to have missed the mess and was thoroughly occupied with other duties as team membersall desperately looked anywhere other than toward the scene of the crime. As time passed and the tension mounted, the feigned ignorance developed into a serious game of chicken. Who would blink first?

There are certain problems and situations in life that only a leader will handle. Such problems and situations are of a type that should not be avoided and cannot be ignored; and, of a type that only the uncivilized or unjust would try to delegate to others. These are the type of problems that we all can see:Somebody needs to do something about that. Many of us aren’t willing to be that somebody.

Next time you have a little mess at your credit union, watch for who steps forward to clean it up. Always promote the first person to grab the mop. They really are somebody.

And, if your hand is not the first one on the mop, perhaps you should give that a little thought, too

April 19, 2012

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