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More Leadership Lessons from West, Texas

I just spent a weekend in Zone 3 at the fertilizer explosion site in West, Texas. I can’t get the images out of my mind. Of 157 homes in Zone 3 only three are OK. Seventy are unsafe and the rest are potentially okay with a great deal of work. The two we worked on yesterday and today are to two of those potentials. In my mind neither can be safe again. I can’t imagine the homeowners moving back into these houses.

So I thought about this week’s blog about leadership and where I go from here with these images on my mind.

I’m angry that the explosion is “out-of-sight/out-of-mind” for so many people in America today. My great franchisee in Milwaukee, Wis., Dave Kozlowski, tells me he never hears about it anymore. At the same time I hear the news stories that more than $25 million has been raised for Boston and less than $1 million for West.

I understand that one involved a terrorist and the other did not. On the other hand, the loss of first responders in West was the largest loss of first responders since 9/11. And the damage in West dwarfs the damage in Boston. We know about the 15 people who lost their lives that day in West; what you don’t hear about are the hundreds with injuries that may result in more lives lost and, at best, will take a long time to heal.

So I come back to leadership and I start to realize, after the first two days, that leadership comes in all ages, backgrounds and sizes. Somehow I confused the fact that a leader is a leader in everything they do. In retrospect I think I am dead wrong.

In the last two days I’ve seen hundreds of leaders. I’ve witnessed people giving of themselves for the good of others. I’ve seen people driving down the street with a load of lumber offering to board up homes. I’ve also witnessed people handing out sandwiches. And people offering support. Some individuals are walking door to door asking what they can do. These people are not waiting for someone to direct them. Instead, they take the lead and get things done.

I’m not sure these people are leaders in anything else they do in life. By looking at some of them, I doubt it. But they are tremendous leaders in West.

I thought about some of the leaders I saw at church this morning. They are leaders in the congregation but I can’t tell you they are leaders in their work. So what is this mystique about leadership? Is it an exclusive club one needs to educate themselves to join?

Some think it must come from the books we can buy on Amazon. When I went to Amazon and entered the keyword “leadership” in the books section there are 91,027 results. No wonder I get confused. The question is do you get confused like me?

After a week of being in West every night I have a whole different view of leadership and I want to share it with you.

I believe leadership is a choice. It is something that you can choose to be in part of your life but not in every part of your life. This is situational leadership. Until the past week I’m not sure I bought into this. Today, I espouse it.

In the next week do yourself a favor.

Choose an area where you can be a leader. Maybe it is at work. Or, at your favorite charity—they always need help. Perhaps it is with your little league. Or maybe it is with your church. Maybe it is even with a Cub Scout group.

People need you. Today. Right now.

Leadership is a choice you make. You don’t have to read one of the 91,027 books. You know in your heart where you can help. Your helping can make a huge difference.

This goes back to the “act as if” phenomenon. If you act as a leader—even though you don’t think you are one—you will become one. Trust me. People will appreciate you and you’ll go home at night having this peace and comfort that you might have never had before.