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Leadership Lessons—It Just Takes One Leader

Last Friday my wife, Mary Kay, and I had a chance to join a Mission Waco appreciation breakfast for 600 people at Waco’s convention center. The Dwyer Group sponsored a table and it was great to go back and see some of the people we joined in Haiti late last year. Even our Doctor was at the breakfast. He has gone to the same village we visited, Ferrier, to volunteer his services a few times.

How does something like this happen?

It all starts with one person, or in this case one couple—Jimmy and Janet Dorrell. In 1978 they bought a house in one of the worst sections of Waco and found their calling. They changed the world for so many in Waco while touching lives in Haiti, India and Mexico. Each week a group of volunteers offers a free breakfast for the poor in Waco who can’t afford a meal. On Sundays Jimmy holds a church service for the poor and homeless under one of Waco bridges. “Church under the Bridge” often attracts more than 300 people.

On Wednesday night my wife and I watched the kickoff of the Rio Paralympics which were held at the same stadium where the Olympics kicked off last month. This year more than 4,300 athletes will compete in 528 events in 22 sports. Opening ceremonies were much more inspiring than their counterpart held August 5th. Also, it was just as extravagant!

I wondered how these games started. Again, it was one leader.

After World War II, Dr. Ludwig Guttman opened a spinal injury center in Great Britain at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. It was to help the large number of war veterans who were injured fighting for their countries. The Olympics were held in London that year and Dr. Guttman held a competition at those games for 16 injured servicemen and women who took part in an archery competition. The doctor called it the “Stoke Mandeville Games.”

By 1960, the first official Paralympic games were held in Rome, again, simultaneously with the Rome Olympics. Four hundred athletes from 23 countries competed. In 1976, the first Paralympic Winter games were held in Sweden.

I assumed, wrongly, that the word “paralympic” had something to do with being paralyzed. Instead, the word comes from a Greek word “para” meaning beside or alongside and the word Olympic. Paralympic simply means games that are parallel games to the Olympics.

Thank God for Dr. Guttman—another example of one leader making a difference.

This weekend 2,000 individuals will meet at the JW Marriott in San Antonio for The Dwyer Group’s 35th annual Reunion. Glass Doctor has been part of The Dwyer Group since 1998. This all started when one leader, Don Dwyer, got fired from his previous partnership and started the company with one concept—Rainbow.

So often it just starts with one leader.

Speaking of the Marriott, I looked back and realized I’ve stayed at five different Marriott brands in the past year. They have more than 4,100 properties in 80 countries. How did it start?

With one leader—J. Willard Marriott opened up a root beer stand with only nine stools in 1927. He had a philosophy to take care of his associates knowing then they would take care of the customers. For the next 58 years he built the Marriott brand on that principle. It remains part of the company’s culture today.

These are four examples of leaders that changed the world. The challenge for all of us is to find a way to change our own world. Who knows what can happen then?

Leadership Lessons—Labor Day

Labor Day. Parade, hot dogs and hamburgers, the unofficial end of summer and beginning of school. That is how I remember it.

Until I looked up that actual history of the holiday I didn’t realize that Labor Day is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. On June 28, 1894 Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday.

I’m sure you are like me in describing you work life. Some of my best and worst memories in life are centered on work. On the other hand, most of my leadership lessons in life came from the jobs that I’ve had over the years.

For this week’s article I want you to go back in your memory bank and think of the jobs you have had—and perhaps the bosses you’ve learned from—good or bad. I’ll do the same to get you thinking.

One of my first early jobs, when I was seven or eight years old, was sitting on the steps of the ice cream store next door to our house and cleaning out the huge carton of ice cream. It’s the same type of carton you saw when you went to the Baskin-Robbins 31 Flavors store as a kid.

The owner of the store was trying to be nice to me. Not being very bright, I got a spoon and starting cleaning out the carton by digging the ice cream out and whacking the spoon on the steps until I had all of the ice cream cleaned out—and now on the steps. I was so proud of the job I did until he came out, saw the ice cream and the ant brigade scurrying to the ice cream, and explained to me that he wanted me to eat the ice cream. It was that day I learned how to clean off the ice cream on the cement steps until it wasn’t sticky anymore and the ants were gone.

The leadership lesson learned? Be kind to people when they make mistakes. You don’t want them to repeat their mistakes—but you don’t need to be a jerk, either.

Memories.

My first real job was making popcorn at the outdoor theatre in Rockford, Ill. Probably the same reason I love theatre popcorn to this day. I wasn’t 16 yet, and my mom had to drive me to work each night and pick me up about midnight. My dad had died a few years before and I didn’t realize how much she was helping me. That same summer I got my driver’s license and got my second job—cleaning up the outdoor theatre at 8 a.m. the next morning. You can imagine what I found. I became an expert at cleaning bathrooms, picking up what-you-can-imagine and getting the facility ready for that night.

The leadership lesson I learned? Hard work gives you what you need. Stuff like gas and insurance for your car and dating money. Oh and that 1962 Chevy Biscayne I was able to buy was a real steal for $200 with the money I saved.

In 1973, with a baby on the way, I had to get my first adult job as a trainee for General Finance Loan Company. Talk about lessons! Very quickly I learned the value of paying bills on time. I had a manager who also taught me to never be late and to take responsibility. He also taught me to not look for help on tough decisions, and that it was “hair in his head—not hayseed.” (Hopefully you’ll understand that phrase much more than I did at the tender age of 19.)

After seven years, being robbed, threatened by customers—including one kick to the groin—and three kids later, I was blessed to get in the franchise business at the age of 26.

Leadership lessons I learned there? Don’t judge people. If you take out a loan be responsible. If life happens and you can’t honor commitments, be upfront about them.

The next 36 years are a blur looking back. I was downsized a time or two, divorced a time or two, moved to a new state a time or five. But I finally found the perfect company, have the perfect wife, and have a lifetime of memories all surrounding this word called labor.

I cannot begin to describe all the leadership lessons learned, and the leaders I’ve had who taught me so much (good and bad). My fondest memories come from leaders I try and emulate to this day.