There is only one way to lead


Through the years I have been a son, brother, cousin, uncle, student, employee, supervisor, manager, director, college professor, husband, father, grandfather, neighbor, friend, best man, non-profit board member and business owner.

All were positions of great importance. Each in its own way was a leadership position.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading many books by and about leaders and leadership, many of which I’ve shared with you in my weekly columns during the course of the last twenty years. The books have been about presidents, business owners, CEOs, generals and admirals, explorers, baseball players and managers, various members of presidential cabinets, members of Congress, candidates for office.

I’ve been alive during the terms of twelve presidents of the United States and remember well one being gunned down in the streets of Dallas and one resigning before he could be impeached. I know that several of them lied outright to the public they were elected to serve.

I’ve had the pleasure of shaking hands and meeting with many politicians and found them to be likable men and women who have lives not dissimilar to my own: a family, a house; responsibilities both personal and professional that demand more time than time is available.

What I discovered in all of this, all of my titles and tasks, all of the ups and downs in life, is that there is only one way to lead. Forget the theories and do this one thing: Lead by example.

What do I mean by this? Show the way. Be the beacon for others to follow.

Don’t just be the guiding light to those you lead, be the one who not only shows the way, but more importantly, helps others along the way.

Like all others who are human, I have to confess that I am not, and will never be able to always serve as the best example for others to follow, despite my best efforts.

Some people have assumed that because I have written this column that I can help them with their individual issues or problems. That was never the goal of my writing my column. When I included my phone number at the bottom of my column I received phone calls from people thinking I could do something about a non-profit or something the city was doing or not doing.

I had no plans to serve as a referral source for attorneys, mortgage brokers, real estate sales people: insurance sales types or to endorse candidates for political office. And I still don’t.

The goal was to educate, motivate and inspire others to improve their businesses and their lives.

I wanted to help build a stronger business community in the place where I live and where I could reach people who were open to learning and doing things differently, doing things better, in and for their companies.

Along the journey, interesting things happened, which included people telling me they had seen a column of mine clipped out of the paper and taped to a refrigerator in someone’s kitchen. Or the grocery store manager who used my material for training his team. Or the people, and there were more than a few, who came up to me at various places around town who thanked me for writing.

One of the most educational and inspirational movies I have ever watched is called “Success is a Journey” by Brian Tracy; it is available on YouTube. Through the many years of writing this column I have referenced this 35-minute video many times.

In it, Brian tells his story as a young man of how he traveled, with great hardship, from the west coast of Canada to South Africa. Many times he wanted to give up, and he had fine reasons for doing so, but he did not, simply because he had set as a goal to get to his destination.

During the video, he punctuates his story by reciting a poem from Robert W. Service, a fellow Canadian who served on the battlefields of Europe in the First World War. One verse is:

“There are some who drift out in the desert of doubt

And some who in brutishness wallow;

There are others, I know, who in piety go

Because of a Heaven to follow.

But to labor with zest, and to give of your best,

For the sweetness and joy of the giving;

To help folks along with a hand and a song;

Why, there’s the real sunshine of living.”

Here is the deal: everyone is a leader. And everyone is watching you as a leader. So do your best at being a leader and when you make a mistake, and we all do, apologize and don’t make the same mistake again. Move on and let others see you move on. They will follow you.

Ken Keller is an executive coach who works with small and midsize B2B company owners, CEOs and entrepreneurs. He facilitates formal top executive peer groups for business expansion, including revenue growth, improved internal efficiencies, and greater profitability. Please contact him at [email protected]. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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