with Mark de Roo

Thanks John Hancock, Lilly Tomlin, and a nurse at Boston General

Bees have their honey, magnets have their North, and I have this thing about bookstores.  It’s an irresistible draw, an involuntary attraction.  And, if that bookstore has a coffee shop, the attraction level has mushroomed by a factor of 10—no, make that 20.

My wife shares the same condition.  So, as is our custom on Sunday mornings after church, we make the jaunt to our local Barnes & Noble.  Within a 20-foot radius of their coffee café are two dangerous sections:  the magazine racks (for my wife) and the business books (my domain). The latter section has its own subsets:  Accounting & Economics (not my cup of tea), Management, Entrepreneurship, even one on “Success.”  I have a penchant for the shelves labeled, “Leadership.”  It’s the biggest among ’em all.  With so many books on this solitary topic, is it any wonder that managers and leaders can’t seem to get it right?

Yet, a couple of books are worth their salt and contain some truths that transcend the Flavor-of-the-Month.  One such book is High Flyers by Morgan McCall, Jr.

What attracts me to it is McCall’s ability to synthesize a list of traits required by global leaders.  But just don’t take my word for it.  Fred Keller, CEO of the extremely successful and progressive organization, Cascade Engineering, has targeted the eleven traits of this book as the qualities that his future leaders must aspire to—and will be held accountable for.

In writing the book, McCall is hesitant to elevate any one trait at the expense of the other.  He won’t.  But, I will. I see one that clearly seems more compelling than the others, and it’s this:  a global leader is committed to making a difference.

Here’s how he describes it.  A leader “demonstrates a strong commitment to the success of the organization and is willing to make personal sacrifices to contribute to that success.  He or she seeks to have a positive impact on the business.  This person shows passion and commitment through a strong drive for results.”

I like that.  I mean, I really like that.  And the reasons are twofold.

First, implicit in this definition is the recognition that we’re in this thing for the long haul.  McCall says the “C” word—commitment—twice.  He also talks about sacrifice.  Both of these have something to do with something that is worthy.

Ray Smith, former football coach at Hope College, had a personal mantra that he charged all his players.  He barked “If you want to make the play, you have to sacrifice your body!”  Well, if you ever watched a kick-off squad on a Ray Smith football team, this phrase was especially apt.  The number of conference championships under his tenure is sufficient testimony.

Any cause worth pursuing has a cost

The same is true in leading an organization.  Any cause worth pursuing has a cost and maybe a dose of pain—but hopefully, a good type of pain.  You know the kind.  Like a good workout.

But there’s a second reason.  And this one goes beyond what McCall offers.  Making a difference should never be solely a “for me” goal.  It’s focus should be on something with larger consequences.  Two pretty prominent figures and one less so helped me understand this.

The first was John Hancock.  No, not the insurance salesman, but the signer of the Declaration of Independence.  You have to love this man’s chutzpah when after penning his big-and-bold signature, he exclaimed, “There, I guess King George will be able to read that!”  His unabashed mark was a symbolic gesture of his commitment to bring it on.

Enter the stage actress Lilly Tomlin, my second compelling figure. In a one-act play, she sarcastically offers this line:  “I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific.”  As much as she humors us and herself with this statement, it is also a comment about “leadership.”  A leader appreciates his or her special calling as a leader, as an advocate for something extraordinary.  Making a difference is not something for wallflowers or persons unwilling to champion a cause.

And lastly, there’s a registered nurse at Boston General Hospital. Let’s call her Lisa. Lisa is no rookie at this hospital where she’s seen it all.  She joined the hospital not in response to an ad but to a calling. Her passion is summed up this way:  “I thrive on making a

What does “making a difference” mean to you?

difference.”  Her focus is on improving the condition of her patients.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Let’s wrap up this one with a few questions:

•    What does “making a difference” mean to you?
•    When, in your past, did you realize you were “making a difference?”  How did it feel?   Did it require some personal sacrifice?
•    How can you make a difference for your teachers, your co-workers, or the students in your system?

Gandhi said it best. Be the change you want to see in the world.

photo by Miss_Rogue