Opinion Columns & Blogs

CUMMINGS: Leadership has three requirements

Last Wednesday, the Downtown Macon Rotary Club saw leadership in action. Curtis Jones, the new superintendent of schools for Bibb County, did everything a leader must do. He started with his BHAG (big hairy audacious goal). It wasn’t a humorous goal like “all third-graders will speak Mandarin Chinese.” It was much more meaningful but still audacious: “90 percent graduation in 2025,” Right now, we have 60 percent, the lowest in the nation. From there, Jones, like every true leader, gave us concrete, measurable strategies for accomplishing that goal.

We need leaders like Curtis Jones; men and women who understand the fundamentals of leadership and are willing to step forward and lead us to higher goals for the right reason. But why would any sane person want to be the leader? Why would Jones want this leadership position in Macon? Why does anyone want to lead other people?

Years ago, I gathered together a group of 25 young vibrant employees in one of our large Macon companies and I gave them this test: “I’m going to give you four reasons for wanting to take the next step up to become a supervisor, a real leader in this company. I want you to circle the one -- if any -- that comes closest to your desires. Don’t sign it. Just put it in this box, and I’ll read them out loud.”

These are the options I gave them:

I want to make a lot of money.

I’m tired of being bossed by somebody else; I want to do the bossing myself.

I’m just as qualified as the idiots who have this job now.

I want power.

None of the above.

When I read the votes, most of them had chosen No. 1: Money. Only one of them said: “None of the above.” “Who said this?” I asked. A young black woman raised her hand. She stood up, looked me straight in the eye and said: “I want to make a difference for other people.” Today she holds a senior position in a much larger company and is one of the most successful leaders I know.

Why was she so successful? She made it for the same reason Jones will make it. It’s the same reason Bill Gates and Walt Disney were so wildly successful. True leaders want to “do something” for other people. Something big. Something different. Something no one else is doing. They have a BHAG in mind that will positively affect other people and measurable strategies to achieve it. And they have the right motive.

Oh sure, they want to make money. But they know money can’t be their motive; it must be their end result. First, Gates brings digital efficiency and Disney brings happiness to children and Jones brings peace and prosperity to a community besieged by drop-outs. Only afterward are the three of them rewarded. The motive for leadership is “helping others.” Believe me, I’ve seen men destroy a business by making money their motive.

Now -- how about you? What’s your BHAG? What do you want to do for others that no one else is doing? What can you bring to the table with your unique talents and background and skills? How can you help children to learn, teenagers to grow, adults to listen? What products can you make or grow or design that will bring joy to others?

How about the job you’re doing right now? Do you have an exciting goal in mind -- other than collecting that paycheck? Are you focused on your customer and his/her needs and wants? Really focused? Are you conducting surveys and interviews?

Leadership has three requirements;

A big, hairy, audacious goal.

Concrete, measurable strategies.

The motive to help other people.

If you have these three things, you’ll have all the followers you need.

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is www.billcummings.org.