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A Leadership Lesson from a True Hero

About a year ago my 13-year-old grandson (Tyler) was selling magazine subscriptions for a fundraiser for one of his classes at school. I scanned the list with Mary Kay (my wife) and we picked out a few Christmas presents and then my eyes found Sports Illustrated.

I love sports. I have ever since I can remember. I played, coached, cheered, jeered, laughed, cried and own the morning editions of the Chicago Tribune for each day after Michael Jordan and the Bulls won each of their six NBA championships. The sports pages were going to be mounted and put in my man cave—or they might just stay in the box in the attic and be an heirloom for my grandkids someday.

Sports Illustrated was my gift to me. I try and devour every issue—especially those that have a cover story that grabs me.

On Wednesday night the new Sports Illustrated arrived and the cover caught my eye, “A Coach’s Courage—In This Ohio High School Corridor Frank Hall Encountered a Killer. Three Kids Already Lay Dying of Gunshot Wounds. Many More Would Have Been Lost If Not For …”

When I saw the cover of the magazine I knew it had to be about Chardon, Ohio. What other OhioHigh School could they be talking about? I didn’t know Frank Hall, the Chardon football coach featured in the article. He is my daughter’s age and he didn’t go to Chardon High.

My mind wandered back to an event over a year ago. It must have been the evening of February 12, 2012. In the background I heard a TV report of a killing at ChardonHigh School. What? That’s where my kids went to high school. I just played volleyball in the gym a couple years ago when I visited Chardon. I used to do the play-by-play at football games a lifetime ago with my neighbor, the principal at Chardon.

Three dead and more were wounded.

Chardon isn’t an inner city school. It is 30 miles from Cleveland. It’s out East in the snowbelt. The same snowbelt that hits Buffalo. It’s a quiet town of five thousand that still has a city square. The Geauga County Maple Festival is still held there. This isn’t the kind of town where there should be killings—it is the kind of town you see on the Andy Griffith show. I was even a member of the Jaycees there.

As I read the article I was struck by the leadership Frank Hall exhibited. In the hall, I had visited so many times, was a 17-year-old gunman with a .22 caliber pistol he had stolen from his uncle. Coach Hall heard the gunfire and saw a student fall to the floor, two more with severe wounds and a couple more running, though shot.

If this were you—what would you do? Have you ever come face to face with a gunman? I have. Early in my career I got robbed at gunpoint. Whatever you think you would do is very different when you face a gun that looks to be the size of a cannon. Hall disregarded his own safety and ran toward the gunman shouting for him to stop. The gunman fired as Hall dove behind a vending machine and the bullet whizzed by. Then he got up and started chasing him again.

This isn’t a Hollywood movie. It is a teacher, a father, a coach. More important: a leader. A leader who risked his own life to protect his students. Because of his actions many were saved as the gunman fled out the door.

Leadership

We face leadership decisions every day, don’t we? Rarely do they have to do with risking our own lives. Or will they involve a gun. They might simply involve having a difficult discussion with an employee. It might involve telling your boss you made the wrong decision. Or, it might just be saying “I’m sorry” to someone you inadvertently offended. It may be taking on the project that no one else wants. Or, it might be putting in the extra time to follow through on an assignment that you haven’t completed.

I’m not sure that I could have run at the gunman and chased him out of school. Does that make me a poor leader … or just a chicken? I’m not sure—but I hope I never have to find out. But Frank Hall illustrates what leadership is all about. He gave me my lesson of the week.

Father’s Day Brings Backs Memories of Leadership Lessons

I thought, in honor of Father’s Day, we should talk about the leadership that our fathers provide to motivate us to become the leaders we are today.

I only had 14 years to learn from my father. I was in 8th grade when he died from a heart attack four days before Christmas. Yet there has been no other person in the past 40-plus years who has influenced me more. This qualifies as leadership.

I’ll share a few stories about my father to see if it can bring back memories for you.

My father never graduated from high school. He was one credit short. My first recollection was him working at Pepsi Cola bottling plant in Rockford, Ill. He was plant manager. I was in second grade and had the choice of taking the regular school bus home or taking another that went right by the plant.

I cherish the days I took the other bus. Dad set a 24-bottle case on its end to serve as my chair beside his desk. I could do my homework while he did his work.

He gave me 10 cents when I got there. This meant a nickel for a candy bar and a nickel for a bottle of pop.

My brother, 18 years older than I, was a route driver and came in one day with a new guy. I remember my brother said “Pop, this is John … John this is my old man.” With that my dad simply said, in a loving non-threatening tone, “Son, when you can whoop me you can call me your ‘old man.’ Until that day please call me your father.”

That was it. I never heard my brother utter the words “old man” again. Neither have I, as I feel it is disrespectful.

The second lesson I learned was when my brother needed to finance a car. He had bad credit and my dad had to cosign. Dad kept me out of school that day and we went to First National Bank. Mom and dad had perfect credit. Dad told me that if someone doesn’t pay their bills on time that the bank won’t trust them and they’ll need a cosigner. He thought it was important that at the age of eight that I learn this. I learned it and have never paid a bill late in my life—regardless of what I had to do to pay it on time.

The third lesson was when one of his “guys on the assembly line” had a problem. Dad had a bible in the bottom drawer in his desk and would counsel anyone who had a problem. They would come in his office and he closed the door. He didn’t preach. He didn’t hit them with religion. He just tried to do “what the good book said to do” and help them however he could.

The last lesson I learned was when he quit Pepsi to take a position as plant manager at his best friend’s company. They had talked for years and dad felt that friendship was more important than working together. Finally, the friend prevailed and dad accepted a position.

When he announced that he was leaving, the majority of the assembly quit at Pepsi and went with him. He didn’t recruit any of them. They just knew that if they followed him they would be treated fairly.

That was 45 years ago.

I’ve talked to several people this week who shared similar stories about their fathers. Many of the stories brought tears to their eyes or very vivid memories. Perhaps many of us learned about leadership without even knowing it. Perhaps it molded us into the person we are or the person we desire to be.

Happy Fathers Day, Dad. Thanks for teaching me leadership by your examples!