Do you remember those diecast construction toys Tonka used to make? That was back in the 80’s when toys weren’t made of cheap plastic -- when quality was a major differentiator to consumers. My parents bought a collection of them and I played endlessly in our backyard sandbox with them. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up and so having that collection was special.
Mom (everyone called her that) was a homemaker and looked after lots of neighbourhood kids. One day a new boy named Danny came over. Of course I was out back building a sand empire with my Tonka’s. We uttered ‘hi’ and then went about playing fairly independently. I had my back to Danny but heard him leaving the sandbox so I turned around. He held my favourite Tonka toy, the Excavator, high above his head.
If diecast metal has an enemy, it’s a slab of impenetrable concrete. In one swift motion he brought the toy to utter destruction by smashing it into the ground. I cried.
Why would any unprovoked person perform such senseless tyranny? Reflecting as an adult it’s easier to understand. Danny was a bully. His destructive attitude towards others, particularly those younger than him, became well defined in future years. In that tragic Tonka-toy moment my anguish somehow filled a broken emotional need. Fortunately, that was the only time he was invited to our house. Good thing people grow out of that as adults. Or, do they...?
I once worked for a fellow who tossed a chair at an employee in anger. Perhaps more impressive, he could consistently complete sentences using more profanity than English. In recent years a teacher divulged that their district was attempting to transfer them to a rural school on the outer extremity of their boundary in an attempt to “entice” early retirement -- either that or suffer through long daily commutes. In another conversation I learned about a principal changing subjects on a teacher every year in an attempt to get them to resign -- this action results in sizeable additional preparation work for a teacher. None of this should be surprising -- we see the same thing in political parties when representatives don’t align. We see it in corporate management.
It doesn’t seem like the Danny’s in the world grow out of this abhorrent behaviour. And as adults they realize fear, intimidation and anguish can be powerful and easily applied “motivators” to get people to do what they want -- whether it’s conforming, taking on extra work, keeping quiet or resigning.
How are these people able to climb into positions of authority? Nobody has access to an “Uninspiring Jack-ass Detector” so it’s safe to assume these people are eloquent and well thought out when interviewed (I never said they were dumb).
Let’s call these people villains.
In the last 10 years I’ve had exposure to hundreds of principals and thousands of teachers. In contrast, many of these people were exceptional leaders -- even if their title didn’t indicate authority. Great leaders should know how to delegate and communicate and instill confidence and commitment. But interestingly enough, these aren’t the qualities that have stood out the most.
Here is my personal top ten list of best leadership attributes based on things I’ve witnessed:
Let’s call people who demonstrate these characteristics heroes.
So, what do we do about the villains in the world. How do we deal with the Danny’s who want to tear down and destroy? How do you escape the rule of a tyrant who manipulates and oppresses?
Become a hero.
At PathFive we believe everyone is capable of being a leader. We value it so much that it’s one of the five pillar values we established when naming the company. Managers have fancy titles. Leaders have the right perspective and attitude. Anyone is capable of carrying that torch. The hardest part is making a decision to do it.
People are stronger when they work together, which is why another pillar value we have is community. Great leaders have the ability to unite people to accomplish incredible things. They build up and encourage. Sound like a great gig?
Don’t fear the villain. Be brave enough to be the hero. It’s better for the organization. It’s better for the people around you. And most importantly, it’s better for you!