How Do We clarify Great Leaders?
I had the pleasure recently of meeting CJ Huff, Superintendent of Joplin, Missouri Schools, while visiting the high school campus at Northpark Mall. All I knew about him I learned from People magazine and the local news. To be honest, before the Joplin Tornado Im not sure I already knew his name – considering I live in the Carthage, Missouri School district (about 10 miles away). After meeting him, however, it was clear that this man is someone who can accomplish amazing things.
I said as much to him and his response was: I had a great team. In the few moments we had to discuss an upcoming bond issue and the vision for Joplin Schools, I could tell he was a great leader.
That singular thought has made me consider what it is to be a great leader, and why did I think that about CJ Huff? People tend to categorize Martin Luther King Jr., Ghandi, George Washington or George Patton as great leaders. Why? Leaders are not leaders unless they have followers. Followers are people who are inspired or motivated by others and choose to believe in their same vision or cause. Notice that information choose – that is important. Leaders are not truly leaders if their followers do so by force or submission, that is a dictatorship or slavery.
If you asked 100 people to define their idea of an inspirational leader, there would be 100 different answers back. However, there are some commonalities percolating to the top within such a question. Greatleaders.info lists three categories that many leaders fall into: charismatic personality, situational leadership and morality or spiritual leadership. From our fleeting encounter, I submit CJ Huff is blessed with two of the three. He is a very engaging person with the ability to discuss rather complicate issues on the appropriate intelligence level of his audience. For example, he was able to dissect the bond issue fairly rapidly and help me understand the need for the bond. And, he is a humble man. When I mentioned the People Magazine articles and honors, he was quick to deflect the praise to his team. This trait makes him more alluring as a leader because he does not bask in the glory of his accomplishments and recognizes he did not do it alone.
CJ Huff also had situational leadership with the Joplin Tornado. This is not an event that anyone would have asked for or dreamed would happen, but it did. The days and weeks afterwards brought a sense of panic. Would everything turn out alright? What would become of Joplin? What would people do for their homes or jobs? CJ Huff stepped up in the confront of an overwhelming situation and made things happen with a singular focus in mind – getting the Joplin students back in school.
CJ Huff told me that he started working with city leaders on May 23rd (the day after the storm) in order to restore students to schools. They had daily morning meetings that outlined each days events and then reviewed those efforts during the next days meeting. That level of communication and commitment to the purpose is apparent as every Joplin school (in some fact) opened on time last fall.
My business is to help people rise to become great leaders, but what does that average? Do I want them to confront adversity in order to prove they are a good leader – NO! The idea is to create good leadership habits and behaviors in our everyday lives so when we are tested, we can stand up strong. The city leaders already established a trust and communication between each other so when Joplin was devastated, the connections were in place for success. Hardship is not the time to establish strong relationships, although their creation can be a side effect – look at all the new friends and family we have built because of our shared experience.