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True leadership isn’t always popular

Tom Wall Published on 21 March 2013

Chances are when you were growing up, your parents were a lot like mine ... strict and frugal.

The first time my dad took my brother and I fishing on Lake Michigan, we were about 10 or 11 years old. A friend of my dad invited us on his boat that he kept in front of the McDonald’s in Two Rivers, Wisconsin.

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After fishing all morning, we got back into town and my dad gave my brother and I $1 each so we could go for lunch at McDonald’s.

When we told him that $2 wouldn’t be enough for us to even get a burger and small fries, he relented and gave us just $1 more between the two of us and said we could share a small order of fries.

Ironically, my parents are some of the most generous people I know. But when it came to raising their kids, they believed in “tough love.”

On top of having strict parents, I also had two grade-school teachers that believed in implementing tough love in their classrooms. Mrs. Thompson and Mrs. Quinette taught their students a lot more than just the three R’s.

They were also focused on teaching us the value of respect, discipline and accountability. I didn’t exactly appreciate it at the time, but I’ll be forever indebted to both of them for teaching me what they knew was right.

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As you can probably imagine, from a kid’s perspective, my parents and these two teachers were not always very popular back then. And had our young opinions mattered at the time, I bet their approval ratings would’ve suffered every time they took away our recess privileges.

But you know what? They didn’t care about that. They cared more about our personal development than our self-interests.

You see, good parents and teachers are leaders who focus on developing and preparing kids for their future. They’re too busy looking out for a child’s best interests in the long term to worry about winning a popularity contest in the short term. Fortunately for me, I was blessed to have great leaders in my life from early on.

So what do you think makes some parents and teachers “true leaders”? Ultimately, true leaders do what they know is right and judge their own performance by the results their “followers” achieve. They don’t do what they do because it’s easy or popular; they do it because it’s right.

So what about you? What kind of leader are you?

Do you have the courage to take a stand and do what’s right? And more importantly, do you have the fortitude to hold strong to your convictions when you’re pressured to give in and do what’s popular?

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In a recent episode of Restaurant: Impossible on the Food Network, the owner of a failing restaurant referred to himself as being “too nice.” Without missing a beat, the “tough guy” host of the show, Chef Robert Irvine, didn’t hesitate to shoot straight with the restaurant owner.

He told this misguided owner not to confuse being “nice” with being “weak.” Chef Robert made it clear to him that his employees desperately needed the owner to lead them. And if he didn’t? The owner’s lack of leadership was going to cost his family their restaurant, and his employees their jobs.

Whether you’re a parent, a teacher or a business owner, the people you serve are counting on you to lead them every day.

More than anything, they need you to look out for their best interests in the long term. No, being a genuine leader isn’t always easy or popular. And that’s precisely what makes true leadership so scarce and valuable.

Now more than ever, we need strong leaders to do what they do best. The question is … Will that leader be you?  PD

Tom Wall
  • Tom Wall
  • President
  • Dairy Interactive, LLC

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